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Application of a voluntary departure plan to an employee resigning

In a case dated January 12, 2016, the French Supreme court (Cass. soc, 12 Jan. 2016, n°13-27.776) decided to strictly apply the provisions of a voluntary departure plan and grant an employee the provisions of the plan he had initially been refused.

The company at stake had implemented a voluntary departure plan which benefited to the employees working in « a changing job » and whose « departure created an opportunity for an employee in a job identified as threatened ». After his departure, the resigning employee willing to benefit from the plan had seen his position taken over not by an employee working in a changing job but by another employee of the company. However, the latter’s job, once vacant, had been filled by an employee who had been holding a threatened job. As a consequence, the departure had in fine and indirectly allowed the redeployment of an employee whose job was threatened.

Lacking detailed provisions on the direct or indirect nature of the redeployment allowed by the voluntary departure at stake, the French Supreme Court opted for a strict interpretation of the plan and granted to the resigning employee the voluntary departure compensation he had been initially refused. This case illustrates the need for employers to set out the conditions of the voluntary departure plan in great details. Failing to do so, the company is exposed to a literal interpretation of the plan provisions by a court, which might entail severe consequences.

This case is thoroughly in line with the courts’ trend to monitor mutual terminations for economic reason as it was illustrated by a recent case held by the French Supreme Court on November 12, 2015 (Cass. soc, 12 Nov. 2015, n°14-15.430) in which the Court considered that the acceptance by the employee of a mobility leave does not deprive him of the possibility to challenge the economic rationale.