In France, we have strong sick leave laws, with the prohibition of work :

If you are in a work stoppage (due to work-related or non-work-related illness or accident at work), you must refrain from any activity not authorised by the doctor.
The prohibition extends to any activity, whether paid or not, even if it is limited and takes place during authorized hours of exit.

French Republic - Public Service

During my annual check up, I got heated criticism by my manager about the fact that, according to them, sick leave doesn't prevent work (I only had 2 weeks sick leave at this point), and that I needed to work, and support the company, during my sick leave if I am feeling well enough to do so (my job can be remote), and not just disappear during leave to reappear after being cleared... My advisor for my apprenticeship program who was there, didn't disagree in the slightest.

I haven't said anything to not ignite the situation, but in the event that I get other push backs for respecting the regulations, how can I advance it to them that I will not work if I am under sick leave?

To be precise, those sick leaves aren't ones I take myself, they are prescribed by a doctor.

  • 62
    Is your employer large enough to have a separate HR function? While we very much like to say on this site that "HR is not your friend", in this case they may be as they want to stop the company being sued for breaching the sick leave laws. Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 13:10
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    Did your doctor prohibit the activities your manager wanted you to perform? Did you ask the doctor if it was OK to perform such activities? The regulation you quote says you shouldn't do anything the doctor says you shouldn't; it doesn't say that you shouldn't do anything at all. Since you are an apprentice, one of the goals of your apprenticeship is likely to learn workplace ethics; in a company of only four people the absence of one, for any reason, has significant impact, so you should take that into consideration (unless you give zero f%#@&s about your employer).
    – mustaccio
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 23:45
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    @mustaccio "The regulation you quote says you shouldn't do anything the doctor says you shouldn't; it doesn't say that you shouldn't do anything at all." That's not quite the wording used by OP, and the difference in wording does skew it in OPs favour. The quote says "you must refrain from any activity not authorised by the doctor", which suggests you should only do activities your doctor tells you to do, not that you shouldnt do anything the doctor tells you not to.
    – JMac
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 12:38
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    @mustaccio A sick leave means no work authorized, period. If some work is permitted, it's not sick leave, it's medical accommodation. Workplace ethics goes both ways, and it's unambiguously unethical for the employer to make any requirements on employees who are on sick leave. Planning that employees may need to take sick leave without notice is management's job, absolutely not an apprentice's job. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 13:17
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    If that's your real name used as a username I would strongly suggest changing it. This sort of query should be done anonymously IMO. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 23:13

5 Answers 5


Fellow French here. Just wanted to add country-specific information to the other good answers given so far.

Sick leaves are called "leaves" for a reason. You are not supposed to work during those. In addition to the law you are quoting, please keep in mind that your employer is not paying you during sick leaves.

It's the health insurance (CPAM) that pays you directly or refunds your employer for what they are paying you during the leaves. Basically, your boss wants you to work for free. That's insurance fraud. It's serious.

I am not a lawyer but I wouldn't be surprised if you were liable too. After all, you'd touch a full indemnity while working part-time, so if you can't prove that they forced you, you can be considered as benefiting from the fraud.

Keeping in touch, keeping the employer up to date with your projected date of return, or the potential quick reply to a question only you can answer, nothing involved but "where did you put the key to the archive?" (but since you're an apprentice, it shouldn't happen) are OK; actual work is not.

In the end, it really amounts to how much you want to keep this position. You mentioned apprenticeship; I don't know the specifics of your situation but you potentially need a good review in the end to pursue your career. Yet, it's your health that's in the balance. If your condition is bad enough that a doctor gave you several weeks of sick leaves, I would advise that you give the uttermost priority to your well-being and the doctor's opinion.

If your boss does not back off immediately with a quoting of the law and knowing they expose his company (and probably, you) to insurance fraud inquiry, you probably don't want to work for them in the first place.

Consider the cost before you lawyer up. Depending on the situation, it might turn into a net loss. There are unions and associations that will help you for free.

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    Additionally, you have the right to disconnect, which is applicable during sick leave, sot there's more than one way that your employer definitely can't ask you to work during sick leave. You might want to loop in a union representative or the inspection du travail. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 7:05
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    And if somebody have the bad idea to fire you over you not working during sick leave, you probably want to check in with les prud'homme too
    – DrakaSAN
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 8:11
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    In France inspection du travail and les prud'hommes are notoriously understaffed and overworked, and recent laws have limited their potential even further. They are of course a possibility of recourse, but it might take years before OP gets any benefit from their intervention. Caution is advised.
    – armand
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 9:08
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    “Keeping in touch, answering emails about your health or the potential quick reply to a question only you can answer” — no, don't do that. Send ONE email to say “I'm off sick until [date]” and switch off your work email. Answering work email is work, and doing that while on sick leave is both unwise and illegal. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 13:12
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    I meant something like "where is the key to the archive?", the kind of basic collaborations humans do with each other. Also, not answering any emails is obviously not possible, if only because OP has to inform his employer of his prospects to return to work if he wants to return at all. I have seen people leave for depression up to a year, they needed to be informed that "accounting has been moved to 5th floor so your stuff are in a cardboard at M Granger's office" etc... I would be very surprised it's illegal, but of course by country YMMV
    – armand
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 22:32

Unfortunately, you don't have very many "non-nuclear" options here as your manager is also the closest thing your employer has to HR. If you actually want anything to change, you can gently remind your employer of the regulations. A number of things may then happen:

  1. Your employer realises that they were wrong and genuinely changes their behaviour.
  2. Your employer "acknowledges" you reminding them of this and stops the direct requests for you to work during sick leave, but continues them in more indirect fashion.
  3. Your employer says "I don't care about that, deal with it" or similar.
  4. Your employer attempts to terminate your employment.

All of (2) to (4) are obviously illegal to one extent or another, but that doesn't necessarily mean your employer won't try them.

If you want to be even more direct than the above, you could make a formal complaint about what was said to you.

If you want to be even more direct than that, you could engage a legal professional.

  • For an apprentice, it is probably valuable to preserve their career. Presenting themselves as being unfortunately sick but willing to offer small help to the limited extent they can -- whether they end up actually achieving anything or not -- may help preserve a better long-term outcome. In the medium term it may be advisable to look for another job.
    – Thomas W
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 3:10
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    I would empathise with their plight, state that working while on sick leave is illegal, state that not working while on sick leave is the quickest way to recovery anyway, and if there are any trivial things I could do to help others to take over (e.g. exchange passwords) I might agree to do those, but strictly speaking I shouldn't do even those. They should be prepared for my being off work unexpectedly. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 10:35
  • @ThomasW in france working while in a sick leave is illegal. An employee caught doing so could face the loss of their sick pay, or, at worst, would have to reimburse the sick pay they already received (if any). it's really not worth the risk.
    – user3399
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 15:13
  • @reinierpost NEVER exchange your passwords with anyone for any reason. That is the worst advice I have ever seen on any stack,
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 18:45
  • Not my passwords, of course ... Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 21:37

The likelihood is that your manager, despite being the "designated HR" actually doesn't have an HR background and doesn't know employment law.

Start by sending them, in writing, the law you quote. Tell them clearly in the same message that your doctor has forbidden you from doing the work you normally do. Given that, you are not comfortable disregarding your doctor's orders.

If they still insist that you should work, then send the same information to your manager's boss (presumably the head of the company).

If that doesn't work, go to a lawyer and have them write a letter to the company with the same information. If you are in a union or professional organization get them involved instead of a lawyer.

What the manager may do is try to see if there is some work that you could do that doesn't conflict with the doctor's orders, even if you can't do what you would normally be doing. Feel free to explore that option, but check everything with your doctor. Follow the doctor's advice.

It's probably a good idea to make yourself available to answer any questions that only you would know the answer to. That may go some way to fixing this. Also make sure you communicate with work regularly - let them know as soon as you need sick leave, make sure any information you have is passed to someone else who can do your work, when you expect to be back, and as soon as those plans change.

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    It is usually even more general than just 'the doctor has forbidden you from doing the work you normally do'. The doctor in general has no clue what you are doing for work and doesn't care. He wrote a generic sick leave which implies OP is not doing any work for that time period. Only if OP really wants to do some specific work during sick leave they could try to negotiate with the doctor to get some specific leave allowing them to do that. In all other cases a sick leave just means no work whatsoever regardless of the specific job.
    – quarague
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 9:22
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    “It's probably a good idea to make yourself available to answer any questions that only you would know the answer to.” — No, this is both unwise for your health and illegal. Don't do that. When you're on vacation, and even more so when you're on sick leave, do not open your work email or phone. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 13:14
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    @Gilles'SO-stopbeingevil' I disagree. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:32
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    This is essentially correct, but misleading. The doctor doesn't say what work you can or cannot do; the doctor merely confirms you are sick and on sick leave, and (if that is 100%) that legally means you cannot work. So you don't need a lawyer, you just need to remind them of the law. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 10:31
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    @DJClayworth but then you are no longer on sick leave - because if you work the company has to pay your wage and not the insurance. So you and your company would explicitly have to change your status from "sick" back to "working" - you cannot just do some work, while being designated 100% sick, that would be insurance fraud.
    – Falco
    Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 11:51

French here

those sick leaves aren't ones I take myself, they are prescribed by a doctor

In France the concept of "sick leave I take myself" does not exist. You either have a sick leave from your doctor - and in that case you are not allowed to work at all - or you are not on "sick leave".

Of course, in a normal company with normal management, for minor things, you would have a lot of arrangements, beneficial to everyone.

@armand's answer is a good one, with one comment

keep in mind that your employer is not paying you during sick leaves.

There are a few days where you are not paid (2? 3? - and I think this is partial pay or something like that). The employer can take these days on them, as a perk to the employee.

  • Good remark about the jours de carence. Those were designed precisely to discourage people from taking short leaves for small inconvenience or minor conditions like a cold. The fact that OP largely outpassed this 3 days period and lost the related salary is all the more reasons for him to consider his condition as serious and refuse to work.
    – armand
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 10:05
  • I think the point "in a normal company with normal management, for minor things, you would have a lot of arrangements, beneficial to everyone" is important here. Perhaps OP's manangement have the view that OP should have asked for their circumstances to be accommodated via 'an arrangement' rather than by taking formal sick leave.
    – avid
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 13:42
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    @avid: in France when you get a note from the doctor that you are sick and should stay at home, it means that you will stay at home and not work. Getting it (at least in some environments, usually the more technical ones) is the ultimate move where you need to formalize your absence. There is no "arrangement" possible here.
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:24
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    @avid (cont'd) The "arrangement" I was talking about was to say to your manager "I do not feel well and will work from home. We can have that important meeting at 10 but then I won't be able to be there". Or "I do not feel well, I will work as much as possible from home". You get your full pay, you do not need to go to the doctor and your company gets the benefit of you doing an effort despite being ill. A win-win of sorts. That will not happen if a manager is mad at you for not working when you are sick - this is the best way to have the sick leave note stuffed in their face every time.
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:24
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    @avid: I get what you are saying, though. It is just that I do not think that the way the manager played it out makes sense if they want the "arrangements"
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:27

Simple, tell them if you feel good enough you will work on the project and never do, unless your doctor says you could work remotely. If they ask what is happening, tell them, after you return, you barely feel good enough even now.

If you want to feel better about it, you could say, to yourself, you cannot feel good enough while your doctor is saying you should not work.

  • In France there is no "you are sick but you can work remotely" kind of situation. Either you are formally sick (and you are not allowed to work), or you are not. There was special provisioning for that case during COVID, (and even that was informal, but suggested by the gov't) but it is now over. In other words, the doctor cannot tell you this (well, they can, but there is no paper fo that)
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 15:29
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    This case is not normal. Sure OP's manager is breaking the law and probably should be punished for that. But getting something out of a verbal request is tedious and probably will end the badly. Instead of confronting them you could dodge the problem. What I suggest is probably not ethical, but you are using that to counter an argument that is not even legal. Commented Oct 4, 2022 at 17:29
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    This answer is good because it likely offers the best long-term outcomes for the employee, in terms of preserving/ optimizing their career prospects. The key is to appear willing, rather than getting into an dispute. Other answers advocate disputing the "work while sick" idea but this may likely sway the OP's manager negatively in terms of apprenticeship & references.
    – Thomas W
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 3:12
  • This is not a good answer. Whether you can work or not is determined by a doctor, not by you. You can tell people at your company how you are feeling, and you can tell them you will work if you feel good enough, but that doesn't mean anything from a legal perspective. You will start working as soon as you're no longer on sick leave, and that's what you need to remind them of. Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 10:28
  • @reinierpost From the OPs explanation, I don't think they will respond well to be reminded of the legalities. Many managers want you to prioritize work overy everything else, this includes your family, your welbeing and even sometimes law. Commented Oct 6, 2022 at 3:47

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