Every so often, I get a question in my inbox from someone who’s living in France and who needs help with something. I try to give advice whenever I can, and if the questions are applicable, I’ll change some information, rewrite the question, and post it on the blog. 

Today’s question is from a girl who was hired as a babysitter and whose work contract does not match the actual work she does.

Note that I’m not a lawyer or authorized to practice law in France, so NONE of this information is legal advice. You should consult a lawyer to settle employment law questions.

Dear Allison,

I’m having a problem with my job in Paris, and I was wondering if you could help me.

I moved to Paris earlier this year to study, and took a job advertised in FUSAC (France – USA Contacts) magazine as a babysitter. The job was advertised for 20 hours per week at 10€/hour after taxes, which is just enough for me to live on and pay my rent.

After I accepted the job, the mother told me that the job was only 18.5 hours, after school every day and all day on Wednesday. Even though I could use the money, I said fine. I started working, and she paid me cash for the first month because she hadn’t set up Chèques Emploi Services yet. Then, she told me it was cheaper for her if she didn’t declare everything, and that she was only going to declare 7.5 hours per week. I felt like I didn’t have any choice but to accept.

When she told me about the upcoming school vacation, I asked her to confirm that I’d be working those weeks, as I need the money to pay rent. She was vague, and then told me just days in advance that they were going to be gone for the whole 2 weeks and I wouldn’t be working! I’m counting on that money for rent, and I think she should pay me for that time.

What should I do?

Poor Babysitter

Dear Poor Babysitter,

Thanks for writing to me.

I typically try to be generous in these situations and assume that because it’s a mom, she doesn’t know any better about employment law, but either way, you’re definitely getting screwed.

I will have to check to see if there are different laws specifically related to home employees, but here’s the deal:

She should be declaring all of the amount you make. Technically, in a case like this, where she deliberately misled you (I assume you have email communications that differ from the written contract and could provide a calendar of when you’ve actually worked?) the employer is entirely at fault, meaning, if you took her to court, she’d owe you back pay + 6 months’ salary.
You do have the right to 2.5 days vacation per month, calculated based on the whole amount you earn each month. This means: total number of hours worked in a month (per your contract) / total number of workdays x 2.5 = paid vacation hours earned per month. You continue to accumulate vacation time during paid time off, but if you take unpaid days off (below), they don’t count towards your accumulated time. (See the Guide to Reading Your French Payslip)
If you have a CDD, you should receive an ADDITIONAL 10% bonus at the end of your contract, 10% of the total amount you earned.
Unfortunately, your employer does have the right to tell you what your vacation days are, and if you don’t have enough time accumulated, she doesn’t have to pay you for them. She DOES have to give you a full month’s written notice if she is making you take a day off. It sounds like she was sort of vague and intentionally gave you the impression that you’d be working/making money during that time so you wouldn’t take another job. Technically, if she doesn’t give you enough written notice (lettre recommandé avec avis de réception), she’s supposed to pay you for those days.

So what can you do?

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of good, non-confrontational solutions to this problem. Lots of employers, especially employers of young people, try to set up sketchy work situations like this. And when we aren’t assertive in the beginning, it’s hard to get the situation resolved.

One of the problems, of course, is the fact that there are tons of students in Paris, and all are willing to take your place. Not all are willing to defend their right to be paid correctly and to have a proper work contract.

Step 1: Decide What You Want

Do you want your employer to declare all of your hours? Pay you for the vacation time? Calculate your vacation time correctly? All of the above?

Figure out what you care about most, and how far you’re willing to go to defend yourself. Prepare yourself for a conversation.

Depending on your employer’s attitude, it may not be worth it (or possible) to stay in the current job. Do you really want to continue working for someone who won’t respect your rights at all? Babysitting jobs in France aren’t actually that hard to come by.

Deciding in advance what you want and whether or not you’re willing to quit will help you be more assertive and realistic during your negotiations with your employer.

Step 2: Find a short-term job for the school vacation.

It sounds like one of your immediate needs is to be able to pay your rent and eat during the school vacation. There are lots of vacations in France, and if the family is going away each time, that’s a lot of money you’ll be missing out on.

As soon as possible, you may want to put an ad on Craigslist or something to see if there are any babysitting jobs you could get for the two week vacation, or maybe put an ad at the American Church for €25. I’m sure there are plenty of families who could use some extra help during the vacation.

Step 3: Talk to Your Employer

Upon further discussion, you told me what kind of job she has, and it’s the kind of job where she would DEFINITELY have to be aware of French employment law, even if you tell me she isn’t French herself.

So call her out. Tell her that you’ve learned that her not declaring all of your income will affect you negatively by:

1) Preventing you from using all of your income to rent an apartment, since landlords only consider what’s on your payslip.

2) Reducing your income because she’s not calculating your vacation time correctly.

She probably knows this, and either doesn’t care, or thinks you should be so grateful that she deigned to give you a job in the first place.

I hate that attitude, but that doesn’t matter.

You can also imply, if you want, that you know these things are illegal, and remind her that the family gets a refundable tax credit for up to 50% of the cost of childcare. Yes, that’s right. Your employer gets 50% of whatever she pays you back from the French government at tax time, even if their income is so low they don’t pay income taxes. So she’s not really even saving much money by keeping your job partially off the books.

Note the dates and times of all of your conversations about your employment, and show it to her. Keep track of all of the days and times you worked, as well. This will help serve as proof of “travail au noir” if you ever decide to pursue the litigious option.

Step 4: Negotiate, accept the status quo, or quit.

If your employer is really just a mom who doesn’t know any better, she may feel bad and work with you to rectify the situation. If she’s agreeable and wants to work with you, you may be able to work out a solution together.

Maybe she’ll give you some pay for the vacation time, or she’ll apologize and agree to give you more notice next time. Maybe she’ll agree to declare all of your hours, explaining that she didn’t realize not doing so was really bad or that it prevented her from getting a tax credit.

If she doesn’t do any of these things, you can choose to continue to accept an illegal situation in which your employer is exploiting you. Or, you can check out these options to leave your CDI job. Personally, I would want to go to mediation or even court to help ensure that the employer doesn’t do the same thing to someone else.

Good luck, and let me know how it turns out!

Allison

Have you had an employer try to do anything sketchy with your work contract? How did you react?

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