French paperwork and bureaucracy are a huge headache even for the French and doubly so if you can’t speak the language. The costs of doing business are high, so it is hardly surprising that there is a lot of “black” work that goes on over here.  We look at the risks of doing this and also of employing somebody on the black (au noir) even if it is just an occasional handyman or cleaner.

What is black work?

Black work is defined as employing somebody without telling the authorities in advance, paying social charges and tax or giving them a pay slip.  If the employer is caught, he/she will be prosecuted and severely punished and it can also have an impact on employees.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you are an individual and not a business you are not an employer.  French law treats anyone who hires someone else for casual services such as babysitting, housework, gardening as an employer.  If your employee injures him/herself while carrying out his/her duties, he or she can claim damages from you, which can be quite high.

What are the risks for the employer?

The major headache for the employer is the liability to fines of up €45,000 and 3 years in prison for an individual and €225,000 for a company.  The fine can be €75,000 and 5 years of prison if you have employed several people or someone who is considered vulnerable in the eyes of the law.

The authorities can shut down the company and the employer can also be made to pay back any aid received for employment in the year leading up to the prosecution.  The employer also risks being stripped of his civic, civil and family rights (meaning the right to vote, plead or bear witness in court, or be a guardian).

If the employee is in a work-related accident, the employer has to bear the costs of indemnification him/herself.

If a tradesperson that you have hired is not insured, you will not be covered for any defective work.  It’s worth noting that builders, electricians etc. are legally obliged to be insured with a firm that allows them to offer a 10 year insurance backed guarantee (known as assurance décennale), so that any defective work can be put right.

What are the risks for the employee?

An employee working on the black is mainly considered as a victim and isn’t held personally liable.  If the employer breaks the unwritten contract, the employee can even claim 6 months salary and has 5 years to do so, as long as he/she can prove the work done.

However if you are receiving state benefits at the same time as working on the black, and don’t declare it, you can be fined heavily, have your benefits stopped and have to pay back the excess.

What are the risks for the self-employed?

If you are a sole trader and get caught working on the black you are risking a fine of €75,000 and 5 years in prison, plus a ban from working as a tradesperson for a defined period, and the equipment and material on site being confiscated.  If you are a company then you risk a fine of €225,000, having to repay any public aid received in the last 5 years and being listed in the register of fraudulent companies.  You also risk losing any state aid you have been receiving as an individual such as housing or employment benefits.

What is the answer for employers?

The C.E.S.U (cheque emploi service universel) system was created for paying for casual work such as gardening, cleaning etc for individuals.  Find out more about the cheque-emploi in this article.

If you wish to make sure that the builder/plumber/electrician that you are hiring is legal and you are not inadvertently employing somebody who is not registered, then ask them for their SIRET number which you can check on the Sirène register.

What is the answer for workers?

If you are self-employed and want to be legal but with as little paperwork as possible, then get yourself registered as a micro-entreprise.  We tell you how in this article all about the micro-entreprise system.  You can get help from the CMA if you are a tradesperson, or talk to a hand-holding business who can help with the paperwork.  Not only will you be legal but you will also be able to prove your income, benefit from the health system and pay into the French pension scheme, as well as be entitled to other benefits such as maternity pay.



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