The conclusion of a mutual contractual termination with an employee declared unfit for work following a work-related accident is possible

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The French Supreme Court has accepted, for the first time, the possibility of concluding an approved mutual contractual termination with an employee declared unfit for work by the occupational doctor, even though this unfitness results from a work-related accident or occupational illness.

After a work-related accident, an employee was declared unfit for work by the occupational doctor. The parties then signed a mutual contractual termination, approved by the administrative authority.

The employee subsequently asked for the cancellation of this mutual contractual termination agreement on the grounds that it resulted in circumventing the legal public policy procedures and guarantees resulting from the unfitness for work status. She notably invoked Article L. 1226-10 of the French Labor Code, relating to the redeployment search obligation.

1. The possibility of concluding a mutual contractual termination agreement with an employee on work stoppage

The French Supreme Court had already accepted that a mutual contractual termination could be validly concluded during periods when the contract is suspended consecutive to a work-related accident or an occupational illness (Cass. Soc., September 30, 2014, No. 13-16.297 PBR; solution confirmed: Cass. Soc., December 16, 2015, No. 13-27.212, PB), or during maternity leave (Cass. Soc., March 25, 2015, No. 14-10.149 PB), despite the existence of protective legal provisions strictly governing the termination of employment contracts in these cases of contract suspension (Articles L. 1226-9 and L. 1225-4 of the French Labor Code).

In the case of an employee back to work after a work-related accident, the French Supreme Court has also accepted the possibility of concluding a mutual termination agreement with an employee declared fit for work with reservations for the resumption of duties (Cass. Soc. May 28, 2014, No. 12-28.082 PB).

2. The possibility of concluding a mutual contractual termination with an employee declared unfit for work following a work-related accident

In its decision of May 9, 2019, the French Supreme Court rules on one of the last questions still unresolved on the use of the mutual contractual termination and validates a mutual contractual termination signed after a declaration of unfitness for work.

The French Supreme Court thus ruled that “except in the case of fraud or vitiated consent, a mutual contractual termination agreement can be validly concluded by an employee declared unfit for his position following a work-related accident”.

Therefore, the employee’s unfitness for work (the principle should also work for non-professional unfitness) does not exclude the conclusion of a mutual contractual termination agreement whose sole condition remains the free consent of the parties.

The position adopted by the judge might seem surprising in that the declaration of unfitness entails a certain number of mandatory obligations for the employer (notably the search for a redeployment position and the resumption of the payment of a salary in the absence of redeployment), and, in particular, the obligation to allocate a special indemnity for termination for unfitness for work whose amount is at least equal to twice the legal severance indemnity, in addition to the payment of a compensatory indemnity for non-performance of the notice period.

That is how the French Supreme Court had decided in the past that a negotiated departure was impossible for an employee unfit for work, as it resulted in avoiding the specific regime of physical unfitness (Cass. Soc. June 29, 1999, No. 96-44.160)

3. Unless vitiated consent or fraud is established

According to now established case law, in case of vitiated consent or non-compliance with an essential formality, the mutual contractual termination agreement is null and void and the termination of the employment contract produces the effects of a dismissal without real and serious cause.

Naturally, in its decision, the French Supreme Court mentions the cases of fraud or vitiated consent, which justify the cancellation of the mutual contractual termination.

The decision (quoted above) rendered in a case of fitness for work with reservations already contained the beginnings of this solution (Cass. soc., May 28, 2014, No. 12-28.082 PB). The French Supreme Court had approved a Court of Appeal that have declared valid a mutual contractual termination agreement of the employment contract of an employee fit for work with reservations following a work-related accident, after finding that the employee had not invoked any vitiated consent and that there was no fraud from the employer.

As regards vitiated consent, an employee unfit for work could invoke his fragile health at the time of the conclusion of the agreement by referring to sequelae having impaired his abilities.

As regards fraud, it could be characterized by the absence of information from the employer on the obligation to redeploy and pay an increased indemnity in case of dismissal for unfitness for work, provided evidence is produced of the employer’s fraudulent scheming having vitiated the employee’s consent.

In this case, the judges dismissed the vitiated consent (which had not been alleged by the employee) and considered that proof of the employer’s fraud had not been established, insofar as the employee had had 15 days to withdraw before the approval of the mutual contractual termination agreement and that the latter had been regular.

The decision: Cass. soc. May 9, 2019 No. 17-28.767 FS-PB, T. v/ AFR France

« Sur le moyen unique, pris en sa première branche :

Attendu, selon l’arrêt attaqué (Bordeaux, 4 octobre 2017), que Mme K...  a été engagée par la société Arbor France, devenue la société AFR France, en qualité d’employée élevage et couvoir ; que victime d’un accident du travail, elle a été déclarée inapte à son poste de travail par deux examens des 1er et 16 avril 2014 ; que les parties au contrat de travail ont signé une convention de rupture le 25 avril 2014 ;

Attendu que la salariée fait grief à l’arrêt de dire que la rupture conventionnelle a été régulièrement homologuée par l’autorité administrative et ne peut être remise en cause et, en conséquence de rejeter ses demandes, alors, selon le moyen, qu’est nulle la rupture conventionnelle du contrat de travail conclue en méconnaissance des obligations spécifiques d’ordre public mises à la charge de l’employeur par les articles L. 1226-10 et L. 1226-12 du code du travail au profit du salarié régulièrement déclaré inapte à son emploi à la suite d’un accident du travail ; qu’en jugeant dès lors qu’en l’absence d’invocation d’un vice du consentement et de démonstration d’une fraude de l’employeur, la rupture conventionnelle du contrat de travail était régulière et ne pouvait être remise en cause, quand elle constatait, d’une part, qu’à la suite d’un accident du travail du 4 juillet 2011 Mme N...  avait été déclarée définitivement inapte par avis des 1er et 16 avril 2014, d’autre part, que la salariée avait conclu avec l’employeur une rupture conventionnelle du contrat de travail le 25 avril suivant, ce dont il résultait que la rupture du contrat de travail, même d’un commun accord, était nulle pour avoir un objet illicite et contrevenir aux obligations spécifiques d’ordre public mises à la charge de l’employeur par les articles L. 1226-10 et L. 1226-12 du code du travail au profit du salarié régulièrement déclaré inapte à son emploi à la suite d’un accident du travail, la cour d’appel a violé les textes susvisés ;

Mais attendu que la cour d’appel a retenu à bon droit que, sauf cas de fraude ou de vice du consentement, non allégué en l’espèce, une convention de rupture pouvait être valablement conclue par un salarié déclaré inapte à son poste à la suite d’un accident du travail ; que le moyen n’est pas fondé ;

Et attendu qu’il n’y a pas lieu de statuer par une décision spécialement motivée sur les deuxième, troisième, quatrième et cinquième branches du moyen annexées, qui ne sont manifestement pas de nature à entraîner la cassation ;

PAR CES MOTIFS :

REJETTE le pourvoi ; »

Président : M. Cathala
Rapporteur : Mme Valéry, conseiller référendaire
Avocat général : M. Liffran
Avocat(s) : SCP Gatineau et Fattaccini, SCP Jean-Philippe Caston

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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