On December 6, 2012, the Marois government introduced Bill 14 on the future of French in Quebec (Bill). This Bill proposes amendments to the Charter of the French language (Charter). The role of the minister responsible for the administration of the Charter is specified, as well as new measures providing for the protection and bolstering of French by civil administration, enterprises, municipalities, universities and colleges.
Generally, the purpose of the Bill is to enable the government to adapt the Charter in order for it to meet the actual needs of Quebec society and to strengthen French as the common language within the province. In the context of this article, we will first deal with the current state of the law. We will then analyze the impact that the Bill could have on enterprises if passed.
Current State of the Law
We will address three components provided for in the Charter: the language of labour relations, the language of commerce and business and the francization of enterprises.
The language of labour relations
The Charter requires an employer to use the official language, namely French, in the written communications addressed to his staff, collective agreements and offers of employment or promotions.
It prohibits an employer from dismissing, laying off, demoting or transferring a staff member for the sole reason that he is French-speaking or does not know enough about a particular language other than French.
It is also forbidden for an employer to require for the obtaining of an employment or office a specific level of knowledge of a language other than the official language, unless the nature of the duties requires such knowledge.
The language of commerce and business
Generally, in business, French must be the language used to communicate information. The documents that must be written in French are the following: application forms for employment, orders, invoices, receipts and discharges, as well as catalogs, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any publication of similar nature, any inscription on a product, its container or on its packaging, document or object supplied with it, including instructions and warranty certificates, menus and wine lists.
In some cases, such as adhesion contracts or contracts containing printed standard clauses, it is possible to write in a language other than French at the express wish of the parties.
Public signs and commercial advertising must also be in French. They may be made in both French and in another language provided that French is markedly predominant. However, the Government may establish, by regulation, the places, cases, conditions or circumstances where public signs and commercial advertising must be in French only, or may be done without any predominance of French or solely in another language.
As for the name of an enterprise, a name in the French language is required to obtain juridical personality. The name of the enterprise may be accompanied by a version in a language other than French provided that, in use, the French name appears at least as prominently. However, in public signs and commercial advertising, the use of a name in a language other than French is permitted insofar as the use of that language in said display or advertising is permitted by the government. In addition, in texts or documents written only in a language other than French, a name may appear in the other language.
Francization of enterprises
The francization program is intended to generalize the use of French at all levels of the enterprise through (i) the knowledge of the official language on the part of management, the members of the professional orders and the other members of the personnel, (ii) an increase, where necessary, at all levels of the enterprise, including the board of directors, in the number of persons having a good knowledge of the French language so as to generalize its use, (iii) the use of French as the language of work and as the language of internal communication, (iv) the use of French in the working documents of the enterprise, especially in manuals and catalogues, (v) the use of French in communications with the civil administration, clients, suppliers, the public and shareholders except, in the latter case, if the enterprise is a closed company within the meaning of the Securities Act,1 (vi) the use of French terminology, (vii) the use of French in public signs and posters and commercial advertising, (viii) appropriate policies for hiring, promotion and transfer, and (ix) the use of French in information technologies.
Enterprises employing 100 or more persons must form a francization committee composed of six or more persons. The francization committee shall analyze the language situation in the enterprise and make a report to the management of the enterprise for transmission to the Office québécois de la langue française (Office). Where necessary, the committee shall devise a francization program for the enterprise and supervise its implementation. Where a francization certificate is issued to the enterprise, the committee shall ensure that the use of French remains generalized at all levels of the enterprise.
An enterprise which employs 50 persons or more for a period of six months must register with the Office within six months of the end of that period. For that purpose, the enterprise shall inform the Office of the number of persons it employs and provide it with general information on its legal status and its functional structure and on the nature of its activities. The Office shall issue a certificate of registration to the enterprise. Within six months of the date on which the certificate of registration is issued, the enterprise shall transmit an analysis of its linguistic situation to the Office. If the Office considers, after examining the analysis of the enterprise's linguistic situation, that the use of French is generalized at all levels of the enterprise, it shall issue a francization certificate. If, however, the Office considers that the use of French is not generalized at all levels of the enterprise, it shall notify the enterprise that it must adopt a francization program.
After having approved the francization program of an enterprise, the Office shall issue an attestation of implementation in respect of the program. The enterprise must comply with the elements and stages of its program and keep its personnel informed of the implementation thereof. In addition, the enterprise must submit reports on the implementation of its program to the Office, every 24 months in the case of an enterprise employing fewer than one hundred 100 persons and every 12 months in the case of an enterprise employing 100 or more persons.
Where an enterprise has completed the implementation of its francization program and the Office considers that the use of French is generalized at all levels of the enterprise, the Office shall issue a francization certificate. Every enterprise holding a francization certificate issued by the Office is required to ensure that the use of French remains generalized at all levels and shall submit to the Office, every three years, a report on the progression of the use of French in the enterprise.
An enterprise that does not respect its legal obligations commits an offense and is punishable by law.
Amendments by Bill 14
First, it is important to note that if the Bill is passed, enterprises employing between 26 and 49 employees must also implement francization measures.
Thus, an enterprise who employs between 26 and 49 employees and maintains this number for two consecutive years, for more than six months, must verify its mode of operation and make French the normal and everyday language of work. If correctives enable it to better achieve this goal, the enterprise must adopt francization measures. According to the diagnosis and issues identified, these measures will address one or more of the following: (i) the list of positions that require knowledge of a language other than French, specifying the date of the evaluation and the level of knowledge required for each, (ii) the transfer and promotion policy, (iii) the use of French in meetings and internal communications, (iv) the training the persons in its employ need because of the implementation by the enterprise of changes to enable them to work in French, including training relating to new software or other work tools, (v) the complaints-processing mechanism within the enterprise and the name of the person responsible for francization and (vi) any other means taken by the enterprise to make French the normal and everyday language of work.
Enterprises with 100 employees or more and those with 50 or more employees are not affected by the Bill.
It is important to note that the Bill provides that the enterprise will remain subject to the provisions of the Charter on the francization of enterprises despite any decrease in the number of employees, unless another regulation is provided for by the government.
Second, the general obligations applicable to all enterprises concerning the language at work and the language of commerce and business are mostly maintained or strengthened.
Employers will also have the obligation to (i) make their job application forms available in French, (ii) sign employment contracts in French, unless they are drawn up in another language at the express wish of the parties and (iii) make available in French staff policies and procedures, any other document stating the workers’ rights and obligations, and the instructions required for the performance of work, including those regarding hygiene and safety.
Also, in addition to the collective agreement, any other group agreement relating to conditions of employment, conditions of remuneration or compensation for services and negotiated by an association or a group that is recognized under an act must, if not already drafted in that language, be available in French upon its signature.
For enterprises with 10 or more employees, the employer must post in a conspicuous place in the establishment a sign informing workers of the main provisions of the Charter.
The Bill adds a new rule against discrimination and harassment towards any person based on said person not having a sufficient command of a language other than French, demanding the right to work in French or having asserted a right arising from the provisions of the Charter.
Finally, if the Bill is passed, the Charter will allow a person who feels aggrieved by a prohibited practice to file a complaint with the Commission des normes du travail under section 123 of the Act Respecting Labour Standards.2