France: New information and consultation obligations for French works councils on environmental issues

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That’s it… French Works Councils now formally have a potentially important new and official role as stakeholders in environmental issues within the Company.

Following the promulgation of the Climate Law (Law n° 2021-1104, August 22, 2021) companies will now have to include
specific information and/or consultation of the works council on environmental issues in the following circumstances:

  • A general information and consultation now also an obligation in terms of the environment (i.e. an opinion of the works council is required) on all questions concerning “the management and the economic and financial development of the company, the organization of work, professional training and production methods” (Article L.2312-8 of the Labor Code).

The social and economic committee’s mission is to ensure collective expression of employees allowing their interests to be taken into account on a permanent basis in decisions relating to the management and economic and financial development of the company, to the organization of the work, vocational training and production techniques, particularly with regard to the environmental consequences of these decisions.”

In practice, when consulting on these issues before any decision is taken on the implementation of a project, employers will therefore have to include specific information on the environmental impact of a project falling into this category.

The consultation period is 1 month (2 months if the works council appoints an expert). However, this period may be extended if the works council considers that it does not have sufficient information to give its opinion. A claim that there is insufficient information about environmental concerns may give the works council an excuse to seek to extend the consultation period. Companies must therefore ensure that they provide the necessary information in order to avoid the risk of this new delay in the consultation processes.

However, the works council does not have the possibility of ultimately vetoing a project – its opinion can be negative or positive.

  • A information obligation within the framework of the 3 mandatory annual consultations on:
    • Strategic orientations;

    • The economic and financial situation of the company; and

    • Company social policy and working conditions.

(Article L.2312-17 of the Labor Code)

Although there is no obligation to consult here (i.e. no opinion is required from the works council), it must be
information on the environmental impact during each of these specific annual consultations.

Failure to comply with these obligations is a criminal offense (entry offence).

Companies should be wary of these new obligations:

  • Works council members now have the right to be
    specifically trained deal with environmental issues and thus risk being well informed to challenge the company on these points;

  • The works council may appoint a expert to assist it – expert firms risk occupying this territory as another source of income and works council instructions and here again employers risk being caught off guard if they are not sufficiently prepared upstream.

In addition, the Climate Law imposes on companies the obligation to include in the information database available to members of the works council (the “BDES”) specific information relating to environmental issues (the BDES now becoming the “BDESE” – E being “Environment“. We do not yet have the relevant decree specifying precisely what information should be included in this database in relation to environmental matters, but watch this space.

Works councils and trade unions are expected to make active use of these new rights and employers would therefore be well advised to master the subject to ensure they do not fall under the new obligations.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.

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