When to write a professional document in a foreign language?
According to the Labor Code, any document containing terms that require knowledge of the duties of the employee or the performance of their work must be written in French.
However, this rule does not apply to documents received from abroad or for foreigners, which may be written in a language other than French (i.e. Trav. Art. L. 1321-6 ; See “Employment and employment contract”, RF 1146§ 1231)
Thus, an employer may send a differential wage proposal written in English to a US citizen employee (Cas. Soc. June 24, 2015, no. 14-13829, BC V n° 128). On the other hand, the international nature of the company's activity does not approve of communicating objectives only in English (case. soc. May 3, 2018, no. 16-13736 D).
Case: Objectives written in English in a subsidiary of a US company
An employee, a pre-sales project manager of an international IT solutions company, took legal action, criticizing his employer for setting out his objectives for calculating his differential pay, specifically in English. The employee held that these objectives did not bind him and sought reinstatement on variable pay.
The Court of Appeal rejected his claim, saying that English was the language used within the company and that it was a subsidiary of an American company.
Are there sufficient elements to make an exception to the use of the French language?
The use of English within the organization does not allow addressing the objectives written in English
The Court of Cassation answers in the negative.
He recalled that it was only possible to use a language other than French if the documents were received from abroad or were intended for foreigners.
If the law is strictly applied, the Court of Cassation will not recognize other exceptions. Recently, it pointed out that since English is the working language within the company, it cannot make an exception to the use of French (Cas. soc. June 7, 2023, no. 21-20322 D).
The Court of Cassation here reaffirms this solution.
In this case, the employee was not a foreigner, and the Court of Appeal did not find that the documents setting out the employee's intentions were obtained from abroad. Therefore, an appellate court cannot reject an employee's claim based solely on the fact that English is the language used in the company and that the company is a subsidiary of a US company.
Cass. soc October 11, 2023, n° 22-13770 FB (extract)
Considering Article L. 1321-6 of the Labor Code:
5. Pursuant to this text, any document containing terms of obligations to the employee or knowledge of which is necessary for the performance of his duties must be written in French. This rule does not apply to documents received from abroad or addressed to foreigners.
6. In order to reject the employee's claim for payment of wages on variable wages, in the context of this dispute the working documents constituting the translations were written in English, used within the company, which is also a subsidiary of an American company. He says that this situation cannot render wage schemes unenforceable against the employee.
7. In so ruling, the Appellate Court, in not finding that the documents setting out the objectives necessary for the determination of contractual variable wages were not written in French, violated the above-mentioned text.
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