Bill 96 and the reform of the Charter of the French Language: What Quebec employers need to know

13 minute read
08 June 2022

Bill 96, entitled An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec (hereinafter "Bill 96"), provides for a major reform of the Charter of the French Language[​1] (hereinafter the "Charter"). It was adopted on May 24, 2022 by the Québec National Assembly and assented on June 1, 2022, bringing many of its provisions into force. The effects of this bill will be significant in Québec workplaces.



Below, please find a summary of the most important aspects of Bill 96 for Québec employers:

  • Communications to employees – The Charter previously stipulated that an employer had to draw up their communications to their staff in French, and the same applies to the publication of job offers or promotions.[2] Bill 96 expanded these obligations as of June 1, 2022, requiring employers[3] to:
    • Ensure that any offer of employment, transfer or promotion is in French
    • Ensure that any individual employment contract the employer enters into in writing is drawn up in French;
    • Use French in written communications, even those after termination of the employment relationship, whether they are addressed to all or part of the staff, a worker in particular or an association of workers representing all or part of the staff. The exception to this rule is where a worker requests his or her employer to communicate with him or her in a language other than French;
    • Ensure the documents listed below are drawn up in French and, if also available in another language, see that the French version is available on terms that are at least as favourable:
      • employment application forms;
      • documents relating to conditions of employment; and
      • training documents produced for staff.

Furthermore, Bill 96 provides that the parties to an individual employment contract (that is, a contract of adhesion) may be bound only by its version in a language other than French if, after examining its French version, such is their express wish. In the other cases, an individual employment contract may be drawn up exclusively in a language other than French at the express wish of the parties. These new rules came into force on June 1, 2022.

Of note: workers whose individual contract of employment was entered before the date Bill 96 came into force, and is drawn up in a language other than French, have one year from June 1, 2022 to request a French translation of their contract.[4] In addition, employers have one year from June 1, 2022 to make application forms, documents relating to conditions of employment and training documents available in French. [5]

  • Knowledge of a language other than French – Bill 96 provides a stricter framework for employers to require their employees to know a language other than French.[6] Since June 1, 2022, an employer is prohibited to require a person to have knowledge of a language other than French in order to remain in a position or gain access to a position (in particular through recruitment, hiring, transfer or promotion), except if:
    • The performance of the task requires such knowledge; and
    • The employer has taken all reasonable steps to avoid imposing knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French.

An employer who requires knowledge of a language other than French for access to a position has to indicate the reasons justifying such a requirement when advertising for the position.

Bill 96 also specifies the circumstances in which an employer is deemed not to have taken all reasonable measures to avoid requiring knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French.[7] This is the case where the employer has failed to do any of the following:

  • the employer assessed the actual language needs associated with the duties to be performed;
  • the employer made sure that the language knowledge already required from other staff members was insufficient for the performance of those duties
  • the employer restricted as much as possible the number of positions with tasks involving duties whose performance requires knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than the official language.

It should be noted, however, that Bill 96 specifically provides that these new requirements must not be interpreted in such a way as to impose on an employer an unreasonable reorganization of its business.

  • Prohibited practices – Bill 96 details the prohibited practices with respect to the French language. Since June 1, 2022, an employer is now prohibited to dismiss, lay off, demote, transfer, retaliate against or impose any other penalty on an employee solely because they speak only French or lack sufficient knowledge of a language other than French.[8] It is also prohibited for an employer to take such measures against a staff member, specifically for the following reasons:
    • The staff member has required compliance with a right relating to the language of work;
    • To deter them from exercising such a right;
    • Because they do not have knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French, where the performance of the duty does not require it;
    • Because they have participated in the meetings of, or carried out tasks for, a francization committee or subcommittee created by it;
    • Because they have, in good faith, communicated information to the Office québécois de la langue française ( "Office") or cooperated in an investigation conducted because of such a communication.

A person who believes they are a victim of a prohibited practice may file a complaint with the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail ("CNESST") within 45 days after the occurrence of the practice complained of.[9] These complaints may subsequently be referred to the Tribunal administratif du travail ("TAT") if the parties fail to reach a settlement.[10] In this respect, the complaint mechanism provided for in Bill 96 is very similar to other complaint mechanisms against prohibited practices provided for in Québec employment legislation, in particular An Act respecting labour standards.[11]

  • Discrimination and Harassment – Bill 96 introduced into the Charter as of June 1, 2022 a provision that every employee has a right to a work environment free of discrimination or harassment because they have no or little command of a language other than French, because they claim the possibility to express themselves in French or because they have demanded that a right relating to language of work be respected.[12] An employer has an obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent this type of discrimination or harassment and, if such conduct is brought to its attention, to make it cease. An employee who believes that they have been subjected to this type of discrimination or harassment may file a complaint with the CNESST within two years of the last occurrence of the conduct complained of.[13] The complaint may then be referred to the TAT if no settlement is reached between the parties.
  • Francization – Bill 96 will reduce from 50 to 25 [14] the minimum number of employees, during a six-month period, at which a company must register with the Office. These businesses will now be subject to the requirements of the Charter with respect to the francization of businesses, in particular the requirement to produce an analysis of the language situation in the enterprise, in addition to being ordered by the Office to set up a francization committee and to adopt a francization program. However, these new requirements will come into force after a period of three years following the date on which Bill 96 received Royal Assent, i.e., June 1, 2025.
  • Federally regulated employers – Bill 96 introduced, as of June 1, 2022, a new provision in the Charter aimed at making federally regulated business (such as enterprises operating in the interprovincial transportation field and banks) subject to the Charter. The Government of Québec had already expressed its intention to subject these businesses to the language requirements of the Charter. This new provision will read as follows:

"89.1. No provision of this Act [the Charter] may be interpreted in such a way as to prevent its application to any enterprise or employer carrying on its activities in Québec."

It should also be noted that a reform of the language rules could be adopted at the federal level. Indeed, Bill C-13, entitled An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts, is currently at the consideration in committee stage in the House of Commons. The purpose of this bill, in its current version, is to protect the right of employees of federally regulated enterprises working in Quebec to work in French.

In light of these ongoing developments, businesses with employees working in Québec, both under federal and provincial jurisdiction, can expect to see a strengthening of the rules applicable to them with respect to the French language at work.

In conclusion, Bill 96 will have a considerable impact on workplaces in Québec since its coming into force created a large number of new obligations with respect to the French language.

For more information on the impact of Bill 96 on your business, we invite you to contact one of the authors or a member of Gowling WLG's Labour, Employment & Equalities Group.

 

[1] RLRQ, c. C-11.

[2] Section 41 of the Charter.

[3] Section 41 of the Charter, as amended by Bill 96.

[4] Section 170 of Bill 96.

[5] Section 171 of Bill 96.

[6] Section 46 of the Charter, as amended by Bill 96.

[7] New Section 46.1 of the Charter, introduced by Bill 96.

[8] Section 45 of the Charter, as amended by Bill 96.

[9] Section 47 of the Charter, as amended by Bill 96.

[10] Section 47.2 of the Charter, as amended by Bill 96.

[11] RLRQ, c. N-1.1.

[12] New Section 45.1 of the Charter, introduced by Bill 96

[13] New Section 47.4 of the Charter, introduced by Bill 96

[14] Section 139 of the Charter, as amended by Bill 96.


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