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The rigorous and even legalistic interpretation of the statutes of limitation applicable to redundancies

French Supreme Court, September 11, 2019, n° 18-18.414

If a job-protection plan is not approved by the labour authorities (DIRECCTE), the subsequent redundancies are invalid. The employee who does not request his reinstatement in the company may ask for a compensation amounting to six months of salary in front of the civil courts (the minimum indemnity was previously set at 12 months and was lowered by the decree n° 2017-1987 dated September 22, 2017).

Pursuant to article L. 1235-7 of the Labour Code, the statutes of limitation for the action filed in front of the civil courts is set at 12 months starting the date of notice of redundancy.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the starting point of the statutes of limitation could be postponed in the case where the decision of the DIRECCTE approving the job-protection plan was subsequently annulled by the administrative courts. In the case it was provided with, the Supreme Court decided to stick to a literal application of the rule of Law.

In this case, an employee was dismissed on April 30, 2014 in application of a job-protection plan included in a collective agreement approved by the DIRECCTE on January 2nd, 2014. Several administrative appeals had been lodged (by another employee) against this decision and ultimately led to its annulment by the administrative Court of Appeal on July 22, 2015. The administrative Supreme Court had rejected the final appeals introduced against this decision.

Given the decision of the administrative courts, the employee filed an action for compensation in front of the Labour Courts in February 2016. The Supreme Court finally ruled that this action was time-barred and therefore inadmissible. Indeed, the employee needed to file his claim within 12 months following the notification of his redundancy, being noted that the statutes of limitation are not postponed or suspended because of the various recourses brought against the decisions of the DIRECCTE.

In view of the above, employees who are informed of a recourse exercised against a decision of the DIRECCTE will be encouraged to file, preventively, an action for compensation within the time limits set by article L. 1235-7 of the Labour Code. Since the judicial and administrative times are not coordinated, it is likely that the employees will ask for a stay until the final decision of the administrative courts which will influence the outcome of the litigation.