Québec’s French language laws – in the Charter of the French Language (the Charter) – are unique to Québec* in that they require private sector employers to recognize French as the language of work.
What employers outside of Québec may not realize is that many of Québec’s French language requirements are triggered as soon as they hire 1 employee in Québec. This means that French language laws could be activated when a single employee opts to work remotely in Québec.
So, what do employers with Québec-based employees need to know?
Quebec Employee French Language Rights
Under the Charter, Québec workers have long had the right to work and communicate in French. Per our earlier post, Québec’s Bill 96 amended the Charter last year – expanding and/or bolstering many employee rights.
Employers must provide written communications to Québec workers in French (even after termination of employment). This includes offers of employment/transfers/promotions, employment contracts (except where the parties have agreed otherwise), application forms, conditions of employment and training documents.
Generally, pre-existing documents must be translated by June 1, 2023. Employment contracts must be translated as soon as possible, if the affected employee requests the translation by June 1, 2023. So, if you have English language documents requiring translation, the clock is ticking.
Hiring & Advancement
Employers cannot make knowledge of a language other than French a job requirement, except where the nature of the job’s duties requires knowledge of another language. Bill 96 made it more difficult for employers to use this exception, as they must take all reasonable steps to avoid imposing such a requirement. Further, employers will be deemed not to have take all reasonable steps unless they can show that they have met certain requirements listed in the Charter.
Discrimination & Harassment
Bill 96 added a new provision to the Charter, protecting employees from discrimination and harassment because they only speak French or require a French language law to be respected.
Employers cannot take any reprisals (e.g., dismissal, demotion, transfer) against an employee in response to a French language entitlement under the Charter.
Additional French Language Requirements
Employers with larger groups of Québec employees will be subject to additional requirements.
- Francization Certificate: Organizations with 50+ employees must register with the Office québécois de la langue française (the Office). If the Office believes that French is used at all levels of the organization, it will issue a francization certificate. And if it does not, the organization must adopt a francization program, which will require them to demonstrate the use of French throughout their organization. On June 1, 2025, these francization requirements will be expanded to include organizations with 25+ employees. [Note: Head offices and research centres may negotiate special agreements with the Office to permit them to use a language other than French.]
- Reporting: Organizations registered with the Office must submit progress reports. Those required to implement a francization program must submit these reports annually.
- Francization Committees: Organizations with 100+ employees (or where so ordered by the Office) must establish a francization committee to develop and implement their francization program.
Enforcement of French Language Laws
The Charter includes procedures for employees to file complaints regarding the language of work. This includes complaints of reprisals, discrimination, harassment or requiring knowledge of a language other than French to keep or obtain a job. However, the Charter will be moving beyond a complaint-based system, as Bill 96 requires the Office to establish an inspection program regarding employer compliance with the Charter.
Penalties for non-compliance start at $2,000 for individuals and $10,000 in all other cases. And it is worth noting that a director or officer who commits an offence under the Charter, will be subject to minimum and maximum fines that are double those applicable to individuals.
Québec’s Charter has “teeth” in that it includes employee complaint and proactive government investigation provisions. Employers with Québec-based employees – even a single employee – are best advised to confirm that they are meeting all applicable French language requirements.
How Compliance Works Helps HR Professionals
Employers with Québec-based employees need to keep in mind the unique requirements of that province. Compliance Works provides plain language summaries of the Charter of the French Language – so that employers can get up to speed on these requirements, quickly. Compliance Works also tracks new developments, and will be the first to notify subscribers of pending federal French language requirements.
Contact us to Request a Demo or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how a subscription to Compliance Works can help your HR team succeed.
*Note: Currently, the federal and New Brunswick governments have official languages legislation that only applies to the public sector. However, the federal government has introduced Bill C-13, which, if passed, would implement some requirements similar to those in the Charter for federally regulated private sector employers.