On December 5, 2012, the Government of Québec tabled Bill 14 to amend various provisions of Québec's Charter of the French Language ("Charter"). The amendments aim to strengthen the powers of the Minister responsible for the application of the Charter ("Minister") and of the Office québécois de la langue française, to amend certain provisions applicable to educational institutions and municipalities, as well as to change certain obligations imposed on enterprises. This newsletter summarizes only the important amendments relating directly to enterprises.
It is important to note that Bill 14 also contains proposed amendments to approximately a dozen other statutes and regulations. Two changes are of some importance. First, French is recognized as the official language in the preamble of Québec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. In addition, Québec's Labour Standards Act is amended so as to permit employees to file complaints with the Commission des normes du travail in cases where certain language rights have been violated.
The National Assembly has been adjourned until February 12, 2013, and, in any event, the Bill will be submitted to public hearings beginning on March 12, 2013.
Anyone may submit a brief or request to be heard in the public hearings on Bill 14 before February 11, 2013. As such, the Bill cannot be adopted earlier than the spring of 2013.
The following are proposed amendments to the Charter that, in our view, will affect enterprises doing business in the Province of Québec:
I. RELATIONS WITH THE CIVIL ADMINISTRATION
A. Communications with the Civil Administration (Section 18.1):
- The Civil Administration (which includes ministries and government bodies, among others) may require documents establishing entitlement to a license, an authorisation, an indemnity, a grant or any other benefit or advantage granted by the Civil Administration to be in French.
- In case of default, the Civil Administration may have a French version of the documents prepared, at the expense of the applicant.
- Notwithstanding the foregoing, the applicant may apply to the highest authority of the Minister for a review of the request, where this requirement sets an excessively short deadline or imposes a disproportionately heavy burden.
B. Contracts entered into by the Civil Administration (Section 21):
- All contracts entered into by the Civil Administration, including related subcontracts, must be drawn up in French.
- Such contracts may, however, be drawn up in another language where the Civil Administration contracts with a natural person who is not resident in Québec or with a legal person that has no establishment in Québec and is not required to be registered in the Registre des entreprises du Québec for the performance of its contracts.
II. FOREIGN PROFESSIONALS
A. Temporary Permits (Section 37):
- Professional orders may issue temporary permits, valid for not more than one year, to professionals who are admitted to a profession outside Québec.
- Such professionals must have the qualifications necessary to practice their profession in Québec, but they are not bound by the knowledge-of-French requirements of the Charter.
III. PROVISIONS COMMON TO ALL BUSINESSES
A. The Language of Work (Sections 41 to 50):
- The provisions of the Charter concerning the language of work are now more specific. In addition to communicating with one's staff and drawing up job or promotion offers in French, the employer must also:
- make job application forms available in French;
- sign contracts in French, unless they are drawn up in another language at the express wish of the parties;
- make internal regulations and compulsory instructions available in French, particularly those concerning hygiene or safety;
- post in a conspicuous place in the employer's establishment a sign informing workers of the main provisions of the Charter relating to the language of work. The Minister shall make available, on its website, a model sign that employers can reproduce to comply with this provision; and
- take all reasonable steps to guarantee the right to work in an environment that is free from discrimination or harassment based on the employees not having a sufficient command of a language other than French or who wishes to express themselves in French.
- Furthermore, an employer may not dismiss an employee because the employee has an insufficient command of a language other than French.
B. Job Offers (Sections 43 and 46):
- Job offers in an enterprise of more than 25 persons, published in a daily newspaper in a language other than French, must also be published in a daily newspaper in French.
- An employer must evaluate the actual linguistic needs relating to a position before requiring a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French.
C. Collective Agreements (Section 44):
- Collective agreements must not only be filed in French as is now the case, but must also be available in French at the time of their signature.
D. Goods or Services (Section 50.8):
- An enterprise must take reasonable steps to ensure that consumers can be informed and served in French.
- Catalogues, brochures and folders must be drawn up in French and the French version must be available in sufficient quantities.
IV. SPECIFIC OBLIGATIONS OF FRANCIZATION RELATING TO THE SIZE OF THE ENTERPRISE
A. Enterprises employing more than 100 Employees (Section 138.2):
- Such enterprises benefit from some flexibility in the law. Henceforth, with the approval of the Office québécois de la langue française, they may replace the francization committee with another mechanism for consulting staff.
B. Enterprises employing 50 or more Employees (Section 141):
- There is no major amendment for this category of enterprises.
- The only amendment provided for is the requirement that the francization program include a policy on work schedules which permits consumers to be informed and served in French.
C. Enterprises employing between 26 and 49 employees (and which maintain that number for more than six months during two consecutive years) (Sections 151 to 151.6):
- These enterprises are not formally subject to the whole of the existing regime governing large enterprises, such as the need to obtain a francization certificate.
- Henceforth, these enterprises must nevertheless ensure that French is the normal and everyday language of work and must respect the rights of consumers to be informed and served in French. Where correctives would help the enterprise to better achieve these objectives, the enterprise must adopt francization measures pertaining to various matters.
- The government may, by regulation, determine the timetable and the francization measures applicable to these enterprises, which may vary according to the sector of activity or the payroll of the enterprise concerned.
D. Sanctions (Section 151.7):
- Every enterprise that fails to comply with the francization obligations applicable to it commits an offence under the Charter and is liable to the penalties provided for in the Charter, and, in particular, to fines of not less than $1,500 or more than $20,000 for a first offence.
The aforementioned amendments are subject to change in the next few months. We will keep you abreast of developments in this area as they occur. In the meantime, we encourage enterprises to ensure that their current obligations under the Charter are being met, and we would be pleased to assist in such endeavour.About BLG
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.