Recently, the Quebec government tabled Bill No. 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec (Bill) which, if adopted, will make sweeping changes to the Charter of the French language (Charter) and several other laws.
Here is a summary of the changes that will have the most impact on Quebec employers.
Communications and contracts of employment
- Employers will be required to respect the rights of workers to carry on their activities in French. They will therefore need to ensure that offers of employment or promotion are published in French and that employment application forms, documents relating to conditions of employment and training documents produced for staff are drawn up in French. Note that these documents may also be available in a language other than French.
- Although individual employment contracts will need to be drawn up in French, it will be possible to draft them in a language other than French at the express wish of the parties. Note that the parties to an employment contract that is a contract of adhesion or contains standard clauses may be bound only by a version in another language if it is found, after examining the French version, that such is the express wish of the parties.
- The Bill specifies that written communications intended for staff, an association of workers or an individual worker must be in French. However, employers may communicate in writing with a worker in a language other than French if the latter has so requested.
Knowledge of a language other than French
- Employers may not take any action against staff members because they do not have a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French where the performance of their duties does not require it. The burden will be on the employers to demonstrate that the duties require knowledge of another language and that they have taken all reasonable means beforehand to avoid such a requirement.
- Employers will therefore need to have (i) assessed the actual language needs associated with the duties to be performed, (ii) made sure that the language knowledge of other staff members was insufficient for the performance of those duties, and (iii) restricted as much as possible the number of positions involving duties whose performance requires knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French.
Preventing and putting an end to harassment
- Employers will be required to take reasonable means to prevent and, once brought to their attention, put an end to discrimination or harassment because employees have no or little command of a language other than French or because they have demanded that their right to work in French be respected.
- In the event of a prohibited practice, workers may assert their rights by filing a complaint before the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST). If the complaint is not resolved, it will be referred to the Administrative Labour Tribunal.
Francization program and certificate – 25 employees and more
- Enterprises employing 25 persons or more (down from 50) for a period of over six months will need to be registered with the Office québécois de la langue française. Enterprises will then have three months to transmit an analysis of their linguistic situation, after which they will be able to either obtain a certificate of francization or adopt a francization program if the use of French is not generalized at all levels of the enterprise.
- This requirement will come into effect three years after the Bill’s adoption.
- A certified translation will now be required for certain documents. For example, a pleading drawn up in English that emanates from a legal person will need be accompanied by a certified translation, failing which it cannot be filed at the court office. Arbitral awards rendered in English will also need to be accompanied by a certified translation.
Federally regulated employers
- Under the new proposed section 89.1, the government seems intent on making the Charter apply to federally regulated employers. If this is the case, federally regulated employers will likely invoke division of powers to contest the constitutional validity of this application.
If the Bill passes, transitional provisions are already provided for allowing for the implementation of the proposed amendments.
After the Bill was introduced, the government announced that a general consultation will be held. Citizens may also comment on this Bill via the National Assembly’s website.