Is it illegal to work on weekends in France?

Is it illegal to work on weekends in France?

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated August 7, 2023

Whether you plan on starting a business in France or accepting a new job in the country, you’ll need to get your head around le droit du travail (French labor laws). These laws regulate many aspects of French working life, such as how many days and hours per week one may be required to work and how many days of annual leave one is entitled to. 

There are pros and cons to this system. It may seem rigid — and understanding its jargon will definitely test your skills even if you are a fluent French speaker — but it helps to define a framework that ensures a healthy work-life balance. After all, le week-end is not only an English word that’s invaded the French language; it’s also an almost-sacred French institution. So much so that you may ask yourself, “Is it illegal to work on weekends in France?” 

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Is working on the weekend illegal in France?

The answer is, in many cases, yes. While it isn’t fully illegal to work on weekends in France, most workers are not allowed to work on Sundays. In France, the law clearly states that workers cannot work more than six days per week, with the seventh day reserved for rest. Workers are also entitled to a minimum weekly rest of 35 consecutive hours. 

The choice of Sunday as the weekly jour de repos légal (legal day of rest) may be rooted in the religious heritage of France. But le repos dominical (Sunday rest) is the default, secular principle advocated by the government, as per the clause L. 3132-3 of the Code du travail (Labor Code): “Dans l’intérêt des salariés, le repos hebdomadaire est donné le dimanche.” (In the employees’ interest, the weekly rest is given on Sunday.)

However, it’s possible to obtain a temporary or permanent dérogation (exemption) depending on certain conditions. This is particularly true for workers in specific industries such as hospitality, food sales, transport and entertainment, where public demand allows for more flexible and customized schedules. For workers in such industries, working on Sunday is allowed and may even be compulsory, so long as it’s included in the contrat de travail (employment contract).

How many hours per week can you work in France?

French labor laws clearly set the maximum amount of work hours per week. 

In 1998, the réforme des 35 heures (the 35-hour reform) reduced the weekly figure from 39 hours to 35 hours. If one works from Monday to Friday, this represents a working day of seven hours, plus one unpaid hour for lunch. It’s possible to work more than 35 hours during a week, but the extra hours are considered overtime and the compensation for those hours is adjusted accordingly with extra pay or extra time off. In any case, French workers are officially not allowed to exceed ten hours of work per day and more than 48 hours per week.

Night work is also precisely defined as any work undertaken between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. Night workers should not work more than 40 hours a week.

To ensure these regulations are correctly enforced, companies must monitor the working hours of their employees or contract workers. There are different ways to track the hours of work. It may be as easy as asking employees to keep track of and declare their schedule, or it may involve more complex processes such as a system of clocking in and out.

Annual leave entitlements and break rights

By law, French workers are entitled to a minimum annual leave of five weeks per year. This is topped up by eleven national public holidays. However, only the fête du travail (Labor Day) on the 1st of May is a mandatory holiday for everyone. This means that workers that are required to work on this day usually receive double pay.

Employees also have specific break rights. They are entitled to 20 minutes of break if they work more than six hours in a row. They also must be given a minimum of eleven hours of rest per day.

With the same purpose of ensuring a good work-life balance, a new labor law was passed in 2016. The droit à la déconnexion (right to disconnect) forbids businesses of over 50 employees to expect a response to work-related communications outside of standard working hours, such as over the weekend. This is to allow workers to properly unplug outside of work. France is the first country in the world to have passed such a labor law.

Don’t break the law, take a break 

From holiday entitlement to working hours, French labor laws set the rules of working life in France. Their goal is to protect workers and ensure that every working person in France enjoys a healthy work-life balance. This explains why it is (mostly) illegal to work on weekends in France and especially on Sundays, though specific exceptions apply.

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Anne-Lise Vassoille

Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries… Settled down in London, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

Anne-Lise Vassoille
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