An anxiety-depressive disorder can suspend the statute of limitations on an action to contest a dismissal

Cass. soc. January 25, 2023 n° 21-17.791 F-D, Sté Lyreco France c/ J.

For the record, before the entry into force of article 2234 of the Civil Code enshrined in the law of June 17, 2008, the Social Chamber of the Court of Cassation was based on the adage ” contra non valentem agere non currit praescriptio“to consider that the employee’s state of health could characterize a case of force majeure.

Thus, the Court of Cassation approved the Court of Appeal’s homologation of the medical expertise and retained that the employee’s state of health, following an accident, had made it impossible for him to take the slightest action on his own behalf for 9 years and that he had been prevented from declaring his work-related accident to the health insurance fund within 2 years of the event, the statute of limitations having been suspended (Cass. soc. February 13, 1964 n°63-10.274 P).

Since June 19, 2008, there is therefore a textual basis providing that the statute of limitations does not run or is suspended against a person who is unable to act as a result of an impediment resulting either from the law, an agreement, or force majeure (article 2234 of the Civil Code).

The decision rendered by the Social Chamber of the highest jurisdiction on January 25 is a rare illustration of the suspension of the statute of limitations of the action to contest the dismissal for force majeure (Cass. soc. January 25, 2023 n° 21-17.791 F-D, Sté Lyreco France c/ J.).

In this case, an employee was hospitalized in July 2015, i.e., more than a year after she started working, due to burnout, according to her psychiatrist. A few weeks after returning to work, she was terminated for cause by registered letter with return receipt on November 2, 2015. On the same day, she informs her employer that she has suffered a work-related accident.

After her dismissal, the employee took steps to have the existence of a work-related accident recognized and to contest the decision by the CPAM to refuse to cover this accident. In February 2016, she wrote to the employer to, on the one hand, contest the effective date of her dismissal and, on the other hand, request her reinstatement.

Then, it was only on February 2, 2018, i.e. two years and three months after her dismissal, that she filed a complaint with the Conseil de prud’hommes challenging her dismissal.

The question then arose as to whether his action was time-barred, to which the Court of Cassation replied in the negative, rejecting the employer’s power!

To this end, the highest court noted that the employee was faced with a force majeure demonstrated by the fact that she had been hospitalized as of July 2015 with significant anxiety-depressive disorders, justified by medical certificates, which had prevented her from acting, thereby suspending the statute of limitations on the action.

This decision illustrates, once again, the fact that in matters of prescription, it does not matter what the time limit is, what is very important is to :

  • fix the starting point with precision,
  • ensure that the time frame is short.

This decision, even if it is a rare case, may nevertheless lead us to think that it is advisable to redouble our vigilance with regard to actions taken by employees who have serious psychosocial risks or who accuse their employer of having committed acts of moral harassment against them…

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