French labour law: Trial period (Période d’essai): unfair dismissal in case of systematic renewal (Cass Soc., June 27th , 2018, n° 16-28515)

In a decision of June 27th , 2018 (Cass Soc., June 27th , 2018, n° 16-28515), the Social Chamber of the Supreme Court adopted a particularly harsh position with regard to companies that practice systematic renewal of trial periods (période d’essai).

Indeed, the Social Chamber considered that the termination of the trial period of an employee should produce the effects of a unfair dismissal (licenciement sans cause réelle et sérieuse) since the renewal of it had not been justified by the need to assess the employee's professional skills but resulted from a policy of automatic renewal of trial periods by the employer.

Although it is quite severe on employers, this decision is very favourable for employees and paves the way for a strong litigation (contentieux), relating to breaks in the trial period (ruptures de période d’essai).

I) Facts and procedure.

In the case submitted to her, she was employed as an officer (chargé de mission) whose trial period had been renewed with her express agreement and then terminated at the initiative of the employer.

The employee, who requested that the termination of her trial period produces the effects of a unfair dismissal because of the improper nature of the renewal of which she had been the subject, had won her case before the Court of Appeal.

The company had therefore appealed in cassation.

II) Reminders on the trial period and its renewal.

Recall that the trial period is defined by Article L. 1221-20 of the Labour Code which attaches a specific purpose: "The trial period allows the employer to assess the skills of the employee in his work, especially in view of his experience, and the employee to assess whether the positions occupied fit him./her »

It can only be renewed once provided that this possibility of renewal is provided for by the extended branch collective agreement applicable to the company and expressly indicated in the letter of engagement or the employment contract.

In addition, the renewal must be expressly accepted by the employee before the end of the initial trial period.

Above all, renewal must be justified in the light of the purpose of the Labour Code in the trial period.

III) Thesis (theses) of the parties.

To justify the renewal, the company argued, in support of its appeal, that the employee was employed in a technical job and that she was one of the employees with the highest level of qualification in the company so that the renewal was necessary to ensure his suitability for his position.

Conversely, the employee showed that the renewal of her trial period was not the result of any need to continue her evaluation but only of a systematic practice of the company.

In support of this assertion, the employee was giving two emails in which company executives made specific reference to this systematic practice and showed that seven other colleagues had also had their trial period renewed without objective justification.

IV) Solution.

Based on the elements reported by the employee, the Court of Appeal had ruled that the renewal by the company did not meet the purpose of the trial period.

She then drew all the classic legal consequences: since the renewal was not valid, the employee was on a permanent contract and the breakdown therefore amounted to a dismissal necessarily deprived of any real and serious cause giving entitlement to the indemnities (compensatory indemnity of notice [Indemnité compensatrice de préavis] severance pay [indemnité de licenciement], damages for unfair dismissal) [indemnité pour licenciement sans cause réelle et sérieuse].

The Supreme Court fully validated the decision of the Court of Appeal and therefore dismissed the appeal brought by the company.

V) What to remember from this decision.

The Supreme Court ruled that "the Court of Appeal noted, by a sovereign appreciation of the facts and evidence submitted for its examination, out any distortion, the renewal of the trial period of the employee does not had not intended to assess his powers and had been diverted from his purpose, and thus legally justified his decision.”

This decision, although not published in the Bulletin of the Court of Cassation, deserves to be underlined since it can have serious consequences for companies that have the habit of automatically renewing the trial periods without being able to justify the need to additional time to assess the ability of the employee concerned to occupy the workstation for which he was hired.

An employee whose trial period has been improperly renewed before being terminated may in fact avail himself of this case law to claim all the indemnities due in the event of dismissal without real and serious cause (compensatory indemnity of notice, indemnity of dismissal, indemnity for dismissal without real and serious cause).

Frédéric CHHUM, Avocats à la Cour (Paris et Nantes)

. Paris : 4 rue Bayard 75008 Paris - Tel: 01 42 56 03 00 ou 01 42 89 24 48
. Nantes : 41, Quai de la Fosse 44000 Nantes -  Tel: 02 28 44 26 44

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