Quebec aims to strengthen communication in French at work

The government of Quebec has proposed a law to strengthen the status of the French language at work.

Bill 96 would make French the predominant language in Quebec workplaces, said Alexandre Fallon, lawyer at Osler in Montreal. If it is adopted, employers in the Canadian province will have to demonstrate that they comply with language regulations within three months or they could face fines.

Fallon said he expects the bill to become law before the end of 2021.

“The proposed changes to the Charter of the French Language in Quebec, if adopted, would constitute the most significant overhaul of the Charter since its introduction in the 1970s,” said Fallon. “This will entail new requirements and new risks for companies operating in Quebec.

According to the 2016 Canadian census conducted by Statistics Canada, French is the main language of approximately 7.2 million Canadians, or 20.6% of the Canadian population. Most Francophones in Canada live in Quebec.

Currently, businesses with 50 or more employees in Quebec must follow specific rules to ensure that French is the language of work. The bill proposes to generalize the use of French for all companies in Quebec employing at least 25 people, said Chantal Larouche, president of GP Conceptal in Montreal.

Communicate with employees in French

Quebec businesses must comply with the following provisions to operate in the province if the bill passes, Fallon explained:

  • Communication with employees: All written communications from an employer in Quebec, including letters of bonus, benefits such as pension plans, manuals, memos, pay stubs, performance reviews and training materials must be available in French. Employers have one year to provide documents in French to all staff.
  • Jobs : Employers must provide a French version of an employment contract before a potential Quebec-based employee can request that the agreement be drafted in English. The accuracy of the French translation is important because an employee could rely on the French or English version of a contract in the event of a discrepancy, explained Sven Poysa, lawyer with Osler in Toronto.
  • Jobs: Quebec employers and human resources departments must post fully bilingual (French and English) ads on job search sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, as well as on provincial job sites or on employer websites. , Fallon said. Advertising in French must reach a target audience of the same size as advertising in English.
  • Recruitment and hiring: Quebec employers and HR departments must keep all records of hiring practices that respect language changes. Companies located in Quebec will have to justify whether a position requires language skills other than French, including English, said Antoine Aylwin, lawyer at Fasken in Montreal.

“These major changes to the charter will ensure that French is the working language in companies employing more than 25 people in Quebec,” said Mr. Fallon.

A September 2021 survey conducted by the Federation of Workers of Quebec revealed that approximately 73% of workers surveyed wish to protect the French language in the workplace.

Bill 96 also provides that an employee can file a complaint with the Commission des normes du travail du Québec – the Commission des normes, de l’énergie, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail or the CNESST – if employers do not communicate in French, said Julien Ranger. , lawyer at Osler in Montreal.

“Employees will also have the right to work in an environment free from discrimination or harassment while communicating in French,” Fallon said.

How Quebec employers should prepare

Quebec employers should review and update their documents for Bill 96. Over the next few months, Poysa said, employers should conduct a gap analysis to:

  • Identify documents to update and translate, including letters of offer, employment contracts, company policies and job applications.
  • Evaluate the real language needs of employees’ tasks in French compared to other languages, including English.
  • Write bilingual models agreements or standard clauses.

Fallon said Bill 96 would introduce a series of complications for HR services in Quebec, especially in small and medium-sized businesses.

If an HR department doesn’t have a fluent French communicator, it may need to hire outside vendors to help it manage payroll and translate documents into French, Fallon said. HR may also need to educate senior leaders on bilingual email communications. For example, a CEO of an entity covered by Bill 96 should write messages to employees in French.

Catherine Skrzypinski is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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