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Global employment briefing: France, May 2013

  • France
  • Employment law - HR E-Brief


Dismissal when excessive workload affects employee health

The Supreme Court has ruled that, if an employer’s breach of its health and safety obligations results in an employee’s extended absence, the employer cannot justify dismissal of the employee on grounds that the absence has affected the running of the company and a permanent replacement is needed.


Employers are under a strict duty to protect the mental and physical health of their employees.

Employees who fall ill are also protected by the law, dismissal for sickness being considered discriminatory. However, as an exception to this rule, an employee may be dismissed if their extended or repeated absence disrupts the running of the company, viewed objectively, provided the disruption requires the permanent replacement of the affected employee.

French Supreme Court decision of 13 March 2013, n°11-22.082

An employer relied on the business disruption exemption outlined above to dismiss an employee who was absent on sick leave. The employee challenged her dismissal, arguing that her health condition was directly linked to an excessive workload, which generated permanent and extended stress.

The Supreme Court held that a dismissal based on extended absence is unfair where the employee is absent on account of stress due to an excessive workload, leading to professional exhaustion affecting the employee’s health. According to the Supreme Court, when the extended absence of the employee due to sickness results from the breach of the employer’s health and safety obligation, the consequences thereof on the running of the company cannot be put forward to justify a dismissal. The employer should have identified the excessive workload situation and remedied it. As the employer had failed to do this, it could not put forward absence as ground for dismissal.


The decision is in line with other cases which have concluded that, when absence is directly linked to moral harassment contrary to the Employment Code (eg bullying), the need to replace the absent employee because of the disruption caused to business operations is not a valid ground for dismissal. The Supreme Court has ruled that this principle should apply to any breach by the employer of its protective obligations towards employees.

The case is an example of the particular attention that French judges are currently giving to excessive workload situations (in terms of stress at work, sickness, working time, etc).

For further information, please contact:

Mathilde Plenat
Senior Associate
Tel: + 33 1 55 73 42 00