On December 5, 2012, the National Assembly of Québec introduced Bill 14, an Act to amend the Charter of the French language, the Charter of human rights and freedoms and other legislative provisions (Bill 14 or the bill) with the purpose of increasing and protecting the use of the French language. Businesses with between 26 and 49 employees are particularly concerned about the proposed amendments since their francization obligations would be significantly increased as a result of the adoption of Bill 14.
The Language of Labour Relations
In order to reinforce the protection of a worker’s right to carry out his/her work-related activities in French, Bill 14 reformulates the employer’s already existing obligations with respect to the language of labour relations, including (i) making job application forms available in French; (ii) drafting employment contracts in French unless otherwise expressly agreed to by both parties; (iii) making available in French the business’s internal management rules, the instructions for the performance of work as well as any other document stating the rights and obligations of employees; and (iv) posting in a conspicuous place the linguistic rights of employees (a new obligation for businesses with between 10 and 25 employees).
Bill 14 also adds a new obligation for employers who require knowledge of a language other than French for a specific position. These employers would be obliged to effect a thorough assessment of the needs of that position in order to validate this requirement. Among other things, the employer would have to take into account the linguistic skills of its existing employees to fill the position. This proposed amendment is presumably related to the current government’s concern that many Québec businesses require knowledge of English as an employment condition or at least favour bilingual candidates.
The Language of Commerce
Bill 14 emphasizes the duty of businesses selling goods or services to the public to take reasonable steps to protect the consumers’ right to be informed and served in French by adding the specific obligation to make available sufficient copies of catalogues, brochures and other documents addressed to their customers in the French language.
Documentation Provided to the Government
If Bill 14 is adopted, all documents required by law to establish entitlement to a licence, a grant, an indemnity, a benefit or any other authorization or advantage awarded by the government will have to be provided in French by the applicant.
Francization of Enterprises
At the moment, all businesses have the general obligation to take appropriate measures so to ensure that French is the normal and everyday language of the workplace. However, Bill 14 extends the scope of the application of the Charter of the French Language’s chapter regarding francization programs to a greater number of enterprises.
Businesses with between 26 and 49 employees are significantly affected because if the bill comes into force in its proposed form, it would codify the obligation of these businesses to verify their mode of operation to ensure that French is the normal and everyday language of work, and if otherwise, to adopt a francization program. Such francization program, as well as the name of the individual responsible for francization within the enterprise and its complaints-processing policy will have to be publicly disclosed. Affected businesses would also have to put in place appropriate measures to protect the consumers’ right to be informed and served in French (i.e., assess the level of knowledge of French of their employees and ensure that their customers have access to quality services in French during normal business hours). Finally, at the request of the Office québécois de la langue française (the Office), they would have to report on the analysis of their linguistic situation and on the effectiveness of the francization measures adopted.
Inspections, Inquiries and Sanctions
The amendments contemplated by Bill 14 would also give broader powers to the inspectors appointed by the Office to investigate any suspected contravention to the Charter with respect to visits, inspections and seizures. In addition, if the Office suspects that a business is contravening its obligations under the Charter, it would no longer have to give the alleged offender a formal notice to comply within a specified time; instead, the Office will directly refer the matter to the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions so that appropriate proceedings are instituted. Offenders will face penal sanctions in the form of a fine ranging from $1,500 to $20,000. The fine will be doubled for a subsequent offence.These proposed amendments with respect to the powers of the Office and its inspectors could have the effect of significantly increasing the number of investigations conducted and sanctions imposed on businesses failing to meet their francization obligations.
Although the bill has been tabled to the National Assembly, its provisions are still subject to change, including as a result of the public hearings on Bill 14, which began on March 12, 2013.