French labour law : Heatwave (canicule) at work: what are the obligations of companies ?

France was hit by an unprecedented heat wave from June 24th to June 30th, 2019.

The working conditions in companies are impacted and employees do not always know how to react to the situation.

So what are the obligations of the employer and what conduct should the employees take in case of heat wave, especially regarding its dress.

1) The obligations of the companies in France

In the labor code, there is no direct obligation for the employer regarding hot weather.

However, the employer must create working conditions that allow employees to work effectively without endangering their health or safety (Article L. 4121-1 of the Labor Code).

Article R 4225-2 also provides that "the employer shall provide workers with drinking water and fresh water for drinking".

Nevertheless, when the working conditions are excessive, the employee can assert his rights and more particularly his right of withdrawal (art L 4131-1 of the Labor Code).

The Labor Code does not define what "excessive working conditions" might be, but the employer must take steps to take any useful measure that enables the employee to work properly.

2) Heatwave at work: How to conduct for employees? Is there a right to withdraw (droit de retrait) for the employee?

When, with the heat, the working conditions deteriorate until reaching an "excessive" point, the employee can then use his right of withdrawal (droit de retrait).

The right of withdrawal (droit de retrait) can be analyzed as a freedom for the employee to assess almost completely whether he is exposed to a danger and if necessary to be able to withdraw from his place of work.

Article L 4131-1 of the French Labor Code specifies the conditions under which this right of withdrawal must be exercised; in this respect, this right may be exercised if the employee "has a reasonable reason to believe that the situation presents a serious and imminent danger to his life or health" but he must not abuse it on pain of a penalty from the employer.

When exercising this right, the employee continues to be paid and "no salary deduction can be taken against a worker or a group of workers who have withdrawn from a job situation. work which they had a reasonable cause to believe was a serious and imminent danger to the life or health of each of them "(Article L 4131-3 of the French Labor Code).

Regarding the unique case of employees working outside, it is advisable to encourage dialogue with the employer to, for example, modulate work schedules to avoid being exposed to the hottest hours.

3) Question of dress

3.1) Can the employer impose an outfit?

The employer may regulate the wearing of an outfit in particular provided that it is justified by the nature of the task to be performed and proportionate to the purpose (Art L 1321-3 of the French Labor Code).

Moreover, when the employee is in contact with customers, the employer can also impose dress code.

3.2) Is the freedom of the employee absolute?

The principle is the freedom for the employee to be able to dress as he wishes (Cass., November 6, 2001, n° 99-43988) but, as previously seen, the employer's power of direction allows him to to limit this freedom since it is not considered by the texts as a fundamental freedom.

However, the tolerance of the employer is greater when the country goes through heat episodes, so the employer / employee dialogue must be favored to ensure compliance with the company rules.

Sources :

Article L.4131-1 of the French Labor Code


Article L.4121-1 of the Labor Code


Article L.4131-3 of the Labor Code


Article R.4225-2 of the French Labor Code


Article L. 1321-3 of the French Labor Code


Cass. Soc., 6 novembre 2001, n°99-43988


Frédéric CHHUM Attorney Avocat and Member of the Bar Council of Paris

CHHUM AVOCATS (Paris, Nantes, Lille)



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