Feb
16
French labour law – Rupture conventionnelle - Prescription of the contractual termination indemnity: 12 months to act (cass. soc. November 20th, 2019) !

On November 20th 2019 (no. 18-10499) (1), the judges of the High Court confirmed that the action for payment of the specific compensation for breach of contract was time-barred within one year of the date of approval of the agreement.

1) Facts and procedure

On January 2, 2014, Mr. X. and his employer signed a contractual breach. On March 3, 2014, the employee applied for interim measures to the Industrial Court for the purpose of obtaining payment of the specific compensation for breach of contractual breach. The order was made on May 21, 2014. As a result, the employee seized the Labor Court on the merits, June 11, 2015.

The Metz Court of Appeal opposes the prescription of the action for payment of this indemnity, taken from Article L. 1234-14 of the Labor Code.

2) The arguments raised against prescription

Indeed, the aforementioned article provides for the application of a period of one year within which the action must be brought. The employee was trying to rule out the prescription of one, on the grounds that there was no “dispute concerning the agreement, the approval or the rejection of the refusal of approval within the meaning of article L. 1234- 14 of the same code ”.

In fact, according to him, his action "tending to require the employer to comply with the obligations he had signed in the agreement regarding the payment of the specific compensation for breach of contract" should not have been formed, hardly of inadmissibility, before the expiration of the period of twelve months from the date of approval of the agreement ”.

In addition, the employee availed himself of the period provided for in Article L. 1471-1, in its version prior to the 2018 ratification law (2).

This article then provided that any action relating to the execution or termination of the employment contract was prescribed by two years. To date, any action relating to the rupture must be carried out within 12 months.

Finally, Mr. X. tried to obtain the application of the three-year prescription established by article L. 3245-1 of the Labor Code (3).

None of these arguments have succeeded.

3) The solution adopted by the Court of Cassation

For judges of the Court of Cassation, the period of one year provided for in Article L. 1237-14 of the Labor Code is applicable in this case. Thus, the Industrial Court should have been seized "before the expiration of a period of twelve months from the date of approval of the agreement", the order made in May 2014 having ended the interruption of proceedings.

4) For the record, the contractual termination is not a transaction

For all practical purposes, and as this judgment gives an example in which industrial tribunal action was taken following the conclusion of a contractual breach, it should be recalled that this same signature, by the employee, of such a breach, does not constitute a waiver of legal action. Indeed, this widespread idea is false.

In addition to the withdrawal period which is granted to him by the Labor Code and which precedes the approval period from which DIRECCTE benefits, the employee may assert his rights before a Labor Council. Indeed, it is possible to make requests relating to the performance of the employment contract, whether it be acts of psychological harassment or overtime, for example.

However, the case law of the Court of Cassation is very restrictive when it comes to challenging the breakup. Legal proceedings will be opened in very limited cases, such as in the event of a defect in consent.

The answer is obviously different when a transaction has been signed in addition; in fact, the transaction entails a definitive renunciation of any action before the courts.

  1. Cass., Soc., 20 November 2019, n ° 18-10499: https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichJuriJudi.do?oldAction=rechJuriJudi&idTexte=JURITEXT000039465664&fastReqId=954822630&fastPos=1
  1. L. 1471-1, Code du travail (anc.): Https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCodeArticle.do;jsessionid=85A31E20B7D6F27C8DF32EB6E022BE3B.tplgfr29s_1?idArticle=LEGIARTI000027550105&cidText=2020
  1. L. 3245-1, Labor code: https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichCodeArticle.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT000006072050&idArticle=LEGIARTI000027566295&dateTexte=&categorieLien=id

Frédéric CHHUM avocat et membre du conseil de l’ordre des avocats de Paris (mandat 2019-2021)

CHHUM AVOCATS (Paris, Nantes, Lille)

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