The Charter of the French Language (the Charter) took effect in 1977, stating the fundamental rights of workers to carry out their tasks in French.

Bill 14,1 which was introduced on December 5, 2012 by the new Parti Québécois government and has not yet been adopted, will strengthen measures to protect the use of French in business. The province’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms has also been amended so that this quasi-constitutional law now enshrines the right of everyone to live and work in French in Québec.

Language of work

Sections 41 to 50 of the Charter provided rules already regarding the language of work. Bill 14 amends this section by codifying certain employer obligations, such as:

  • Making job application forms available in French;
  • Signing employment contracts in French, unless they are drawn up in another language at the express wish of the parties;
  • Issuing French copies of staff policies and procedures, statements of workers’ rights and obligations, and instructions for the performance of work, including those regarding hygiene and safety.

While these are not new obligations for employers, they are now codified.

The Bill also places a greater burden on any employer who wishes to require the knowledge of a language other than French in recruiting to fill a position. Before requiring the knowledge of a language other than French, an employer must thoroughly evaluate the linguistic needs relating to carrying out the duties of the position. The evaluation must also consider, among other factors, the linguistic skills required already of other personnel to satisfy the existing needs of the company.

The Bill also prohibits vexatious behaviour, discrimination or harassment in the workplace that is based on a person’s inadequate command of a language other than French, on their demanding the right to work in French, or on their having asserted a right that is protected by the provisions of the Charter. As with the psychological harassment provisions in the Act Respecting Labour Standards, employers are assigned a positive duty, i.e., a duty to take reasonable means to prevent this type of behaviour and to curtail it when brought to their attention. Any employee who suffers such a violation would have recourse before the Commission des normes du travail or an adjudicator.

The Bill also imposes a new obligation on unions to supply their members, on request, with a French version of their statutes and financial statements.

Francization programs

The most significant change with regards to francization programs is that they now apply to companies with 26 to 49 employees: previously, they applied only to companies with 50 employees or more, without exception.

As such, under the new rules, a company that employs between 26 and 49 employees and maintains that number for more than six months over two consecutive years will be subject to the francization program requirements.

In the case of companies that sell goods or services, francization programs must aim to provide good quality service in French.

Under the Bill, the government may, by decree, adapt the obligations of companies based on factors such as their line of business and their payroll.

Contravention of the Charter

A notable amendment proposed under Bill 14 applies to situations where the Office québécois de la langue française believes that a regulation under the Charter has been contravened. Previously, under the Charter, the Office was required to provide legal notice to a suspected offender who, in most cases, could then correct the situation and ensure compliance within a specified timeframe. If this amendment is approved by the National Assembly, the Office will no longer be required to provide legal notice or a deadline for compliance. Instead, it will refer the matter to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions so that appropriate proceedings may be instituted.

It will be most interesting to follow the debates over this Bill in the coming months …