When the coronavirus pandemic descended on Paris in March, Emilie Franchineau and her colleagues suddenly found themselves at home and adjusting to a new work paradigm. Franchineau is a senior account manager at a major communication group in France and needed to adapt both to a remote work schedule and a remote management style.
Eventually, her company decided that putting some of its employees, including Franchineau, on “partial activity” was the most economically viable option for maintaining operations during the shutdown necessitated by the pandemic.
“If companies are facing financial difficulties, especially during COVID-19, they can file a request before the French government for what we call partial activity,” explained Christine Artus, an attorney with K&L Gates in Paris. Partial activity is for companies experiencing either a reduction in their usual working time or a temporary closure of all or part of the company, according to the European Monitoring Centre on Change.
“Under partial activity, employees would be paid [by the employer] 84 percent of the net salary,” Artus said. This is equal to 70 percent of their gross hourly wage, noted the European Monitoring Centre on Change. Under the partial-activity plan, the company puts in a request to the government for help covering the cost of the affected employee’s salary, but companies will be reimbursed for only 60 percent of the gross salary, according to The National Law Review.
“Partial activity is really a scheme for the employer to continue to pay the employee … so that the employees are not dismissed,” Artus said.
Franchineau was put on 30 percent partial activity, which means she is working 70 percent of the time through at least the end of August. Since July, she has returned to the office for part of that work time. Employees are required to wear masks at her company, and no more than 40 percent of the workforce is present in the office at one time.
The French government has modified its partial-activity scheme since it was implemented during the pandemic. Since the beginning of June, companies have been able to individualize partial activity to reflect which employees should have reduced hours and who should work closer to full time. If the employees in question are members of a trade union or another protected class, the company needs the explicit consent of the employees who are put on individualized partial activity.
Natacha Waksman in the Paris metropolitan area works as a freelance mediator. Her work was completely paused when the pandemic struck and lockdowns were implemented.
“I need to have people meeting face to face,” Waksman said. “Basically, people stopped working at their workplaces, and I could not have them meet in a safe, healthy environment. So all the ongoing mediations I had were canceled or postponed.”
She kept her brand active online while caring for her six-month-old infant in the absence of child care. “I feel so lucky to live in France now,” Waksman said. “We had financial support for all the months during the lockdown.”
By the beginning of June, some of her work had slowly resumed, but there are still challenges. She worries that companies won’t prioritize mediation as they struggle with the economic reverberations of the pandemic.
“I’m concerned that many firms will be very much focused on making the company survive the crisis economically and financially” and that their HR issues will be put on hold, Waksman said. However, she believes that her work is going to be needed by companies as they get back to work.
Pros and Cons of Meeting in Person
With workers slowly returning to their offices, companies need to weigh the risks and benefits of meeting in person. “In France, there is an important and serious risk for companies because there is an obligation … for the employers to ensure the health and safety conditions at work,” Artus said. If an employee were to contract COVID-19, determining whether it came from a work colleague, a family member, a ride on public transportation or somewhere else would be difficult.
“My recommendation to companies is to maintain what they have done since May 2020,” Artus said. Enforce strict mask-wearing within the company, and try to permit telework whenever possible, she recommended.
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Companies, employees and independent contractors are all figuring out how to navigate this new phase of pandemic employment without knowing what will come.
“What will the company be afterward?” Franchineau asked. “Are we able to survive? And if so, for how long? It is not so much about my job, because we are in France, and I know that I will have money allocation in case I lose my job. But are we able to survive this economically speaking?”
Her company’s activity has picked up since the lockdowns have ended and more people have returned to work, but there is a lingering fear of a second wave of the pandemic and the economic impact.
“We are optimists, but everything can change in the next week,” Franchineau said. “So we just don’t know.”
Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul.