Canada: Bill To Amend The Charter Of The French Language: Highlights For Businesses In Québec

On December 5, 2012, the Québec Government tabled a Bill to amend the Charter of the French Language. The contemplated amendments aim to increase the use of French in various spheres of the Québec economy and society, including in Québec businesses.

For businesses, the most important proposed amendments are the following:

Documentation provided to government departments. The civil administration may request that documentation required in support of an application for a licence, an authorization or a grant be provided to it in French within the period it specifies, failing which it may have the documents translated at the applicant's expense. If an applicant considers the request unduly onerous, it may apply to the highest authority of the department or agency concerned for review of the request.

Knowledge of a language other than French as a job requirement. Before requiring knowledge, or a specific level of knowledge, of a language other than French for a position, an employer must thoroughly evaluate the actual needs relating to that position, taking into account the linguistic skills already required of other personnel members to satisfy its needs. Furthermore, in the event of a complaint, the employer has the burden of proving the actual linguistic needs relating to the position. It should be noted that the Government is extremely concerned that making English a job requirement has become current practice, especially in the Montréal area. The Government considers it unacceptable that such a practice has the effect of preventing the integration of francophone immigrants into the labour market. We can therefore expect the Government to crack down on this practice through the proposed provisions requiring that employers analyze and justify the real need for knowledge of a language other than French for a position.

Serving consumers in French. A number of new provisions are aimed at ensuring that consumers can be served in French, including the obligation for businesses that sell goods or services to the public to take reasonable steps to inform and serve consumers in French and to make commercial documentation available in French and in sufficient quantity to meet the demand.

Francization of businesses. All businesses must strive to make French the normal and everyday language of work, although the intensity of that obligation increases with the number of employees. The francization obligations already imposed on businesses with 50 employees or more under the current Charter of the French Language remain generally unchanged. However, the francization obligations are extended to other businesses, especially small to medium sized businesses, as follows:

  • all businesses: in order to make French the normal and everyday language of work, all businesses must adopt, as needed, a francization program or francization measures that they will disseminate within their business. Internal policies and procedures as well as written instructions concerning the performance of work must be available in French and all employment contracts must be in French, subject to the express wish of the parties to the contrary. Also, businesses must make public the name of the person responsible for francization within their business as well as their complaints-processing mechanism.
  • 10 employees or more: businesses with 10 employees or more must post in the workplace the principal rights of workers regarding the use of French at work.
  • between 26 and 49 employees: businesses with between 26 and 49 employees will be subject to new obligations, including the obligation to verify their mode of operation for ensuring that French is the normal and everyday language of work, taking into account their circumstances and, in the case of businesses that sell goods or services to the public, to respect the right of consumers to be informed and served in French. If corrective measures would help better achieve these goals, the business must implement francization measures to achieve them, including, for example, in the case of businesses that sell goods or services to the public, the implementation of measures to ensure that employees are present during normal business hours to offer consumers quality information and service in French. The Office québécois de la langue française may require that a business justify its assessment and the francization measures it has identified and implemented. It should be noted that the Bill provides that the Government may subsequently require the implementation of francization programs for this category of businesses similar to those applicable to businesses with 50 employees or more.
  • 50 employees or more: existing obligations remain unchanged, including the obligation to generalize the use of French at all levels of the business in accordance with the criteria listed in the Charter of the French Language, with the addition, as a criterion for the generalized use of French, the implementation of work schedules or other measures to ensure  that the consumer's right to be informed and served in French is respected.
  • 100 employees or more: current obligations remain unchanged, including the obligation to generalize the use of French at all levels of the business in accordance with the broadened criteria referred to in the previous paragraph and the obligation to establish a francization committee on which employees participate. However, the Bill introduces a new flexibility regarding employee participation: the business may, with the approval of the Office québécois de la langue française, substitute the francization committee with another mechanism for consulting and involving staff.

Lastly, bear in mind that the Bill has only just been tabled and that its provisions, including those described above, are subject to change, including as a result of the public hearings that will begin March 12, 2013.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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