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Understanding the French leave system

France is famous throughout the world for three things: its luxury boutiques, the Eiffel Tower, and its complicated leave system. Even French HR managers tear their hair out trying to understand how it works. Here is a brief reminder of what you need to know.

A case of vocabulary

The first point to mention when tackling French leave legislation is making the distinction between “working days” and “business days.” Working days are the days on which the company is open and employees work; basically the five-day week from Monday to Friday. Business days include all the days on which you could possibly work since no legal obligations prevent it, i.e. every day except Sundays and public holidays.

Getting down to the nitty-gritty: annual leave accrual

French annual leave is accrued on a monthly basis, at a rate of 2.5 business days per month, or 2.08 working days. Annual leave accrual is based on the system the company uses, which is why the distinction we just made is important. So, to make a long story short, you are entitled to 5 weeks.

Using the calendar year as a reference would be too easy for the French. Instead, the reference year runs from June 1 to May 31. But the accrual year and the year when you use leave differ, so you take time off using the days you earned the year before.

Think that’s already complicated enough? Now let’s talk about the main vacation period, which runs from May 1 to October 31. If you aren’t lost yet, you will have noticed that it straddles two fiscal years. You need to take at least 2 weeks in a row during this period, but no more than four weeks in total. The fifth week must be taken outside this main period, i.e. between November 1 and April 30. But you can’t take the five weeks in a row. Need a rest? Hold on, we’re not done yet.

Harder Better Stronger

Now you know the basics, we can go a little more in depth. Have you heard of RTTs? Since the French can only legally work up to 35 hours a week, every hour beyond this limit is considered overtime. These hours are paid, or employees get time off in lieu which is added to a special counter known as RTT. RTTs are accrued on a calendar year, used within the year they are earned, and can be carried over for three months. It’s the same as annual leave… but totally different.

Last but not least: fractioning. Remember the main vacation period? Well, if you haven’t used the full four weeks you were allowed to take during this period, you are eligible for extra days that are calculated based on the remaining days.