On December 5, 2012, the Quebec Government tabled Bill 14 (An Act to amend the Charter of the French language, the Charter of human rights and freedoms and other legislative provisions). The proposed legislation introduces a variety of new measures affecting labour relations, commerce and business and the francization of businesses.
The existing provisions relating to the language of work are replaced or amended as follows:
- The right to work in French set out in the Charter of the French language is enshrined in the Charter of human rights and freedoms;
- Employment contracts must be drawn up in French, unless the parties expressly agree that they be drawn up in a language other than French;
- Instructions required for the performance of work, staff policies and procedures and any other document setting out workers’ rights and obligations must be made available in French;
- Collective agreements and any other group agreement relating to conditions of employment or conditions of remuneration or compensation for services must be in French. This requirement applied to certified associations under the Labour Code but will now apply to associations that are authorized to negotiate such agreements under other legislation;
- An employer may not require knowledge of a language other than French for a position unless it has first “thoroughly” evaluated the linguistic needs relating to that position. Such a requirement may only be imposed if the performance of the work actually requires such knowledge.
- The employer must provide assurance to every employee that he or she has a right to work in an environment free from vexatious behaviour, discrimination or harassment based on the employee’s insisting on the right to work in French or asserting a right arising from the Charter provisions relating to the language of work.
Language of commerce and business
- Businesses that sell goods or services to consumers must “take reasonable steps” to ensure that consumers are informed and served in French (have sufficient staff to respond to the needs of French-speaking customers and provide documents to consumers in French, which must “be available in sufficient number to meet the demand”).
Francization of enterprises
- The francization process is extended to include some new businesses and some obligations that already exist are modified;
- Obligations relating to francization are imposed on businesses that have between 26 and 49 employees for more than six months during a period of two consecutive years;
- Businesses with 26 to 49 employees will have to conduct an evaluation of the application of French in their enterprises with the objective of making French the normal and everyday language of work. They will have to implement the measures that are required as a result of that evaluation. The businesses concerned will have a period of two years in which to make the evaluation and take the necessary corrective measures;
- Businesses with 50 or more employees will have to include in their francization programs measures aimed at ensuring that the right of consumers to be served and informed in French is respected (work schedule and other means);
- Specialized business associations, workforce committees or other similar bodies may develop programs aimed at helping their members meet their obligations under the Charter;
- Businesses with 100 or more employees may establish a mechanism for consulting and involving their staff as a substitute for a francization committee, which mechanism will have to be approved by the Office québécois de la langue française.
- A business that is subject to the francization process will continue to be subject to it, even if the number of people it employs goes down, unless otherwise provided for by regulation;
- The Government may by regulation, prescribe any rule for calculating the number of employees in an enterprise in connection with the application and enforcement of the Charter;
- Penalties may be imposed on an enterprise that fails to comply with its francization obligations.
Enforcement of the Charter
- The new Bill gives broader powers (seizures, visits, inspections, etc.) to the inspectors entrusted with enforcing the Charter;
- If a contravention is determined to have occurred, the matter will be referred directly to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions and no formal notice will be given as provided for under the current law.
Public hearings will be held concerning this proposed legislation, whose provisions are slated to come into force thirty days after the date the legislation is assented to.