Breaking a work contract is a serious business in France, and employees as well as employers can be held liable for damages to the other if the law and proper procedures are not respected on all sides.
So before you start looking for a job, here are three things you should know about a CDI:
1) A CDI means you basically have a job forever.
CDI is the abbreviation for “Contrat à durée indéterminée,” meaning that once you’re hired, you have a job until you retire. In theory, at least.
As the default work contract in France (other than internship contracts, and CDD, or Contrat à durée déterminée), the CDI is a rather rigid structure that defines your job responsibilities and the situations in which you or your employer can end the contract.
While it’s true that you *can* get summarily fired from a CDI for gross incompetence or insubordination (faute grave de l’employé), in most cases, your employer has to buy out your contract in order to end it.
Some French employers systematically fire their workers once they reach their mid-fifties, accepting to pay the large fines rather than the larger costs of continuing the employee’s high salary and eventually, retirement.
2) A CDI can be as simple as a verbal agreement.
While most companies provide written work contracts to their employees, a CDI can result from a verbal agreement. Unless your contract specifies that you’re in a CDD (Contrat à durée déterminée) and gives proper justification for that type of contract, guess what? You have a CDI.
Payslips are also considered legally binding documents that prove you have a CDI if no other documentation is given.
Legally, your employer must provide you with a written summary of your job, and the company is required to provide a translation of this document into your native language. If the company gives you a contract in your native language, require a copy of the French version as well, in case you ever need it for legal purposes.
3) Your employer can require a trial period.
When you start a job, a “période d’essai,” or trial period, can be written into your contract. This can be a length of time from a few weeks to a few months during which you and your employer test each other out and decide whether the job is a good fit. At the end of the trial period, or at any time during it, either you can break off the contract with no consequences, as long as you respect the notice period specified in the contract. The standard is to give a day’s notice for every week you’ve been working, unless otherwise specified.
If your employer doesn’t specify a période d’essai in your contract, though, there isn’t one. Legally, your full contract is in effect from the moment you start working, with all of the normal “préavis” in effect.