On June 1, 2022, the Québec National Assembly passed Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, introducing significant changes to the Charter of the French Language and other laws. The Bill aims to reinforce the use of French in business, services, communications, education, and the workplace by strengthening existing French language requirements and imposing new ones.
Below we have summarized the significant employment-related changes and offer some key takeaways.
The key employment law changes introduced by Bill 96 are as follows:
- Mandatory Employment Documentation and Written Communications in French: Employers must provide offers of employment, transfer or promotion; documents relating to conditions of employment, such as manuals and policies; job application forms; group benefits information; and training documents in French, with no exception. Employers are also required to draw up written communications to their employees in French, unless an employee requests that such communications be in a language other than French.
- Individual Employment Contracts in French: Bill 96 divides individual employment contracts into two categories: those that are a contract of adhesion (i.e. a contract where its terms are imposed and are non-negotiable) and those that are not (i.e. the terms are individually negotiated by the parties).
- All employment contracts that are contracts of adhesion must be provided in French, so that the parties can first examine the contract and only after examining it, agree to be bound by the non-French version if it is their wish to do so.
- Employment contracts that are not contracts of adhesion can be drawn up exclusively in a language other than French if it is the express wish of both parties. Individual employment contracts entered into before June 1, 2022 that are drafted in a language other than French are not required to be translated into French, unless an employee requests the translation within one year of June 1. If requested, employers must translate the documents in a timely manner.
- Recruitment: Employers must make job postings available in French in a comparable manner as the publication of the non-French version. An employer advertising a job offer in a language other than French must ensure that the non-French job offer is advertised simultaneously with the French offer. Both job offers must reach a target public of a proportionally comparable size. If a position requires the knowledge of a language other than French, the justification for the requirement must be indicated in the job posting. Additionally, employment applications must be drawn up in French. If applications are available in another language, employers must ensure that the French version is available on terms that are at least as favourable as the non-French version.
- Knowledge of a Language other than French: Employers are required to take all reasonable means to avoid requiring a person to have knowledge of a language other than French to obtain or keep a position. Before making knowledge of English a condition of employment, businesses will have to conduct an assessment as to why that condition is required and document it. However, the Bill specifies that this requirement should not be interpreted as imposing an unreasonable reorganization of an employer’s business.
- Protection Measures: Employers are prohibited from taking reprisals against an employee who seeks to enforce his or her rights under the Charter or to deter an employee from exercising such rights. The Bill also creates a new dispute resolution procedure: any person who believes they have been the victim of a prohibited practice can now file a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (the “CNESST”) within 45 days of the alleged conduct.
- Discrimination and Harassment: The Bill provides for a right to work in an environment free of discrimination or harassment with respect to the use of French. Employers will be required to take reasonable steps to prevent such conduct and, if such conduct is brought to their attention, to make it stop.
- Francization: The existing French language requirements applicable to businesses with 50 or more employees are extended to businesses with at least 25 employees. These businesses will now be required to register and obtain a Francization certificate from the Office québécois de la langue française (“OQLF”) attesting that the use of French is “generalized” at all levels of the business.
- Compliance and Enforcement: In addition to creating a new private right of action for Québec residents, the Bill increases penal fines for non-compliance with the Charter to a maximum of $30,000 for businesses for a first offence. In addition, the OQLF, charged with enforcing the Charter, is also granted enhanced enforcement and investigative powers, such as entering a business’ premises to ensure language requirements are being met.
- Court Proceedings: Any pleadings drawn up in English by an individual or corporation must be accompanied by a certified French translation, at the expense of that party.
Please note that Bill 96 applies to any employer carrying out its activities in Québec, including federally-regulated employers.
Entry into Force
Most of the amendments described in this post entered into force on June 1, 2022. The extended Francization rules will become effective three years after the Bill’s assent, and the provision regarding the translation of pleadings will become effective three months after the Bill’s assent. Parties will also have one year to translate any application forms, documents relating to conditions of employment, training, and other documents into French.
Businesses with Québec employees will need to review their current practices and may be required to undertake major changes to comply with Bill 96’s new requirements, including:
- reconsidering job posting/description practices;
- translating employment applications;
- reconsidering their approach to translating all employment-related onboarding documents (offers/contracts, bonus plans, commission plans, equity plans, etc.);
- developing an approach to translating all benefits information, employment policies and other employee facing documentation; and
- for businesses with at least 25 employees, assessing whether the use of French is generalized in the workplace and making additional changes to comply with the Francization rules.
Many thanks to Juliette Mestre for her assistance with this blog.