Informing a Dismissed Employee by Telephone: Reminder of Procedure by the Cour de Cassation (French Supreme Court)

Cass. soc., April 3, 2024, n°23-10.931

An employee was dismissed for gross misconduct by a letter sent on February 7, 2019. On the same day, the company’s Human Resources Director informed him by telephone that the letter had been sent, a telephone conversation overheard by two witnesses (in this case, colleagues) via loudspeaker.

The employee appealed to the Labour Court on the grounds of dismissal without real and serious cause, claiming that he had been verbally dismissed. The company justified its action by arguing that the phone call was a courtesy measure to spare the employee an embarrassing situation at a work meeting scheduled a few hours later, and did not in itself constitute formal notification of dismissal.

The French Supreme Court rejected the company’s appeal, confirming the decision of the Reims Court of Appeal. It held that the employee had provided proof of his verbal dismissal on February 7, 2019, before the registered letter was sent, and that this verbal notification—without a statement of reasons—rendered the dismissal without real and serious cause.

In addition to reaffirming the importance of the formal dismissal procedure laid down in Article L.1232-6 of the French Labor Code, which requires that the reasons for dismissal be set out in the letter notifying the termination of the employment contract, this decision also reaffirms that any prior verbal notification or information may be considered a dismissal without real and serious cause. This principle remains valid even if the letter of dismissal is sent on the same day as the telephone call, with the Court emphasizing that communication analyzed as a verbal dismissal cannot be regularized by the subsequent sending of a termination letter.

This decision also highlights the precautions that employers must take during the dismissal procedure to avoid challenges, particularly the importance of chronology, which must demonstrate that the letter of dismissal was sent before any verbal communication to avoid the dismissal being considered abusive.