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Language Laws and Quebec Workplaces

Employment Contracts | Policies and Procedures

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I grew up in Quebec and there is little doubt in my mind that it is a distinct society in many ways, including the fact that Quebec has language laws and language police. Where else in Canada is there a law requiring two English-speaking people to enter into a contract written in French unless they explicitly agree it can be in English and requiring that a company presenting a contract to an English-speaking candidate must present it in French?

Every few years we see an evolution of the language laws which have driven non-Quebecois out of the province since before I was born. Bill 96 is the latest example, a Bill which goes even further to impose the French language upon every workplace and work relationship. For those of you with operations in Quebec, here is a summary of what you need to know.

Employment Agreements Must be in French

There are two types of contracts, with slightly different rules. The first type is a contract of adhesion, which is “a contract in which the essential stipulations were imposed or drawn up by one of the parties, on his behalf or upon his instructions, and were not negotiable” according to the Civil Code of Quebec 1379. Such contracts must be presented in French, following which the parties can agree to be bound by an English version.

The second type of contract is where the terms are negotiated by the parties, in which case there is no need for a French version if both parties confirm in the agreement that it was their intent that the agreement be drafted in English.

Job Postings and Requiring Knowledge of a Language other than French

All job postings must be in French. If they will also be in another language, they must be disseminated together and by the same means; in other words, the Employer cannot circumvent the intent of the requirement by having two postings but “burying” the French one while promoting the other.

If an employer wants to require knowledge of a language other than French, they must demonstrate that they have

  1. assessed the language requirements related to the job duties;
  2. confirmed that the knowledge of another language already required of other staff members was insufficient for the performance of those duties; and
  3. limited the number of positions involving duties whose performance requires a language other than French as much as possible.

This is a more onerous requirement that previously existed, in which employers only had to demonstrate that knowledge of a language other than French was necessary to perform the job.

Other Communications

The following types of communications must be disseminated in French by employers:

  • transfer offers;
  • applications forms;
  • documents relating to conditions of employment;
  • group benefits information;
  • employment policies and handbooks;
  • employee training documents; and
  • written communications (unless the employee made a specific request to be communicated with in another language).

If such documents are not already in French, employers have one year to translate them.

Reprisals and Penalties

Employers are prohibited from imposing sanctions in order to:

  • penalize someone for demanding that their language rights under the Bill be respected;
  • deter an employee from exercising a right relating to language of work;
  • penalize an employee who does not have knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French, where the performance of his/her duties does not require it;
  • penalize an employee for taking part in meetings of, or carried out tasks for, a francization committee or a subcommittee of that committee;
  • penalize an employee who has, in good faith, communicated information to the Office or cooperated in an investigation following a breach of the Charter.

Bill 96 also establishes a new process for complaints against employers under the authority of the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail.

Pith and Substance

Rudner Law advises employers and employees across the country, but when it comes to employment relationships in Quebec, we partner with lawyers in that province in order to ensure that our clients get the best possible advice. That is the case because unlike all other jurisdictions, Quebec law is based on the Civil Code and not the common law.

Many of our corporate clients operate in multiple jurisdictions, and we will work with Quebec counsel where appropriate. The bottom line is that you cannot and should not take anything for granted, including something as simple as presenting an offer of employment. In Quebec, if you do that in French, you may have broken the law.

Please contact us before you do anything that may expose you to liability, or if you think that your rights may have been breached.

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