On June 20, 2023, the federal government passed Bill C-13, which will establish French language rights for Quebec-based employees at federally regulated private sector businesses.
So, what are the implications of these upcoming French language entitlements for federal employers?
Bill C-13 vs. Quebec Charter of the French Language
Federal businesses with operations in Quebec are likely already aware of the province’s Charter of the French language (the Charter), which establishes French language rights for Quebec employees. Bill C-13 establishes similar legislation – the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act (the Federal Languages Act) – for federal businesses with a Quebec presence.
The Federal French Language Act (which has not yet been proclaimed into force) will apply to federal businesses with Quebec employees, provided that they do not choose to be subject to the Charter instead. The new federal Act authorizes the Minister of Canadian Heritage to enter into an agreement with the Quebec government to enable this override. Presumably, that federal-Quebec agreement will have to be in place before the Federal French Language Act comes into force.
For more information on the Charter, and recent amendments included in Bill 96, read our earlier post.
Which Employers are affected by Bill C-13?
Once in force, the Federal French Language Act will apply to federal private sector employers (e.g., banks, telecommunications, airlines, railway, shipping) that have employees based in Quebec. Two years after the new Act comes into force for Quebec employees, it will expand to other regions in Canada with a strong francophone presence.
Employee Entitlements and Employer Obligations Created by Bill C-13
Bill C-13 establishes a wide-range of employee entitlements for Quebec-based employees of federal private sector employers.
Employers must provide employee communications to current and former Quebec employees in French. This includes:
- employment application forms;
- offers of employment, transfer or promotion;
- individual employment contracts;
- documents related to the conditions of employment;
- training documents produced for employees;
- notices of termination of employment;
- collective agreements and any schedules; and
However, there are exceptions to this rule where the use of French is at least equivalent to the use of English or the parties so agree. (Note: Contracts of adhesion must first be provided by the business to the employee in French, regardless of agreement.)
In addition to the right to French language communications, employees have the right to:
- work and be supervised in French;
- use regularly and widely used work instruments and computer systems in French;
- file complaints regarding the language of work.
When a business publishes a job ad in a language other than French, it must also publish the ad in French and ensure that both versions are of the same nature and reach an audience of a proportionally comparable size.
Businesses must establish a committee to support them in using and fostering French. Committees must develop programs to generalize the use of French at all levels of the business.
As with other communications, any communications and documents may be in other languages, provided that the use of French is at least equivalent to the use of the other languages.
Employers cannot treat Quebec employees adversely because they:
- only speak French;
- do not have sufficient knowledge of a language other than French, including employees working in Quebec workplaces before this requirement comes into force;
- claim the possibility of expressing themselves in French;
- exercise a right under the Act, make a complaint, communicate information in relation to a complaint or participate in an investigation (or to deter the employee from making a complaint);
- take part in committee meetings or tasks (or to induce/dissuade the employee to endorse a document prepared by a committee).
Additional Requirements for Unionized Workplaces
Unions have the right to receive communications and documents in French. Similar to employee communications, these communications and documents may be in other languages, provided that the use of French is at least equivalent to the use of the other languages.
Businesses must ensure that grievance and interest arbitration awards are:
- issued in French or, if issued in English or another language other than French, are translated into French without delay, at their expense and provided to the parties in both versions at the same time; and
- translated into English or another language other than French as soon as feasible and at their expense if they were issued only in French and a party requests the translation.
Enforcement of Bill C-13
It is important to note that not only employees may file complaints with the Commissioner regarding the use of French in their workplace. Former employees and even potential employees may also file complaints regarding the language of work.
The Commissioner is governed by the same investigative powers as outlined in the federal Official Languages Act (which applies to the federal public sector).
While Bill C-13 creates new French language obligations for federal employers, it does not duplicate all of the requirements that were included in Quebec’s Bill 96. In particular, Bill C-13 does not include the detailed francization requirements found in Bill 96. (See our earlier post for more information.)
As noted above, however, Bill C-13 is unlikely to come into force until the federal and Quebec governments reach an agreement on the application of Bill C-13 to Quebec employees of federal employers. So, federal employers may have to wait to take “advantage” of the somewhat less onerous obligations of Bill C-13.
Whether subject to Quebec or federal language laws, federal private sector employers must ensure they recognize and protect the new French language entitlements of their employees.
How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals
Employers with Quebec-based employees need to keep in mind the unique requirements associated with that province. As a part of its coverage of Official Languages, Compliance Works provides plain language summaries of the upcoming Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act requirements – so that employers can get up to speed, quickly. Compliance Works will be the first to notify subscribers when the new federal Act comes into force.
In addition to Official Languages, Compliance Works provides easy-to-read summaries and the latest changes on Accessibility, Employment Standards, Health & Safety, Human Rights, Labour Relations, Pay Equity and Privacy.
Contact us to Request a Demo or email us at email@example.com to learn how a subscription to Compliance Works can help your HR team succeed.