Switching from one line to two on the payslip: a modification of the employment contract…

Cass. Soc. March 13, 2024, No. 22-22.032

An employee was hired as a part-time self-service employee.

On her payslips, for 13 years, there was only one line relating to her monthly salary, with the mention of 130 hours of work per month.

Starting from September 2014, the payslips were modified to now include two separate lines:

  • One line with the mention of the monthly salary for 123.80 hours per month,
  • A second line mentioning a break time of 6.20 hours per month.

It is important to note that this break time was paid at the same hourly rate as the working hours, despite this change in display on the payslip.

Thus, the employer continued to pay the employee for 130 hours per month.

The employee took the matter to the Labor Court and sought back pay based on a unilateral modification by the employer.

The Court of Appeal did not grant her request, considering that no unilateral modification of the employment contract was established since the employer still paid the employee for 130 hours.

However, the Court of Cassation overturned this decision, affirming that the working hours stipulated in the employment contract are an essential element that cannot be modified without the employee’s consent, even if the remuneration is maintained.

The high court relied on Articles L. 1221-1 of the Labor Code and 1134 of the Civil Code (now 1103 of the same Code), relating to the consent of the contracting parties and contractual good faith.

Therefore, the employer should have obtained the explicit consent of the employee to modify the presentation of the payslip.

This decision illustrates the widely established principle that the contractual working hours, which are the basis for calculating remuneration, are an element of the employment contract that cannot be modified without the employee’s consent, regardless of the absence of a negative impact on the remuneration. (Court of Cassation, Social Chamber, April 30, 2011, No. 09-70.853)

The Court of Cassation thus extends the application scope of this principle to the payslip, which is evidently a contractual element binding the employer, thereby reminding that any modification of the terms of the employment contract must be approached with caution.