December 21, 2018

Language considerations when your employees work in Québec

It’s particularly important to understand compliance requirements when establishing a presence in Québec. Here, Ceridian Legal Counsel Lyndee Patterson reviews key principles for employers, and the importance of assigning responsibility for linguistic compliance.

Lyndee Patterson

Residing in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Lyndee Patterson is a lawyer on staff at Ceridian responsible for legislative compliance and for monitoring the provincial and federal legislative landscapes from an HCM perspective. She also represents Ceridian on the Federal Government Relations Advisory Council.

Before a company expands its operations into a new jurisdiction, there should be a period of discovery and due diligence. As a business owner who wants to establish a presence in Québec, it’s particularly important to understand that your operations (including your products, services, and human resources) will need to be flexible enough to adapt to the new environment. 

The Charter of the French Language (Bill 101), passed over 40 years ago, is an important source of compliance obligations within Québec.

The Charter has a long history and gives the Office québecois de la langue française (OQLF) its enforcement authority. More commonly referred to as the language police, the OQLF is responsible for monitoring the linguistic situation in Québec and ensuring that French is the normal and everyday language of work, communication, commerce and business.

As an employer in Québec, there are several principles to be aware of:

  • Workers have a right to carry on their activities in French and to have written communications from their employers be in French (s.4, s.41)
  • Consumers of goods and services have a right to be informed and served in French (s.5)
  • Every person has a right to have all enterprises doing business in Québec communicate with them in French (s.2)
  • Product packaging, directions for use, catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any similar publications must be drawn up in French (s.51, s.52)
  • All computer software must be available in French unless no French version exists (s.52.1)

When hiring in Québec, it may be necessary to demonstrate that the positions you’re filling require a specific level of English proficiency. Unless it can be shown that the nature of the duties require English, candidates can complain to the OQLF that they were not hired for the sole reason that they are exclusively French-speaking (a violation under s.46).

The OQLF operates primarily on a complaint-based system, so being sensitive to the linguistic rights of individuals in Québec is an important way to mitigate your organizational risk.

Whether a business is large or small, the opening of a new office typically involves hiring employees locally. Employers should be aware of a few thresholds. If you hire:

  • Fifty or more employees for six months, you must register with the OQLF and submit an analysis of your linguistic situation to obtain a francization certificate (s.139);

Note: Any business holding a francization certificate must submit, every three years, a report on the progression of the use of French in the enterprise.

  • One hundred or more employees in Québec, your organization needs to establish a Francization Committee of six or more people (s.136).

A francization committee is responsible for devising a program for French generalization and implementing it. Failure to comply with the requirements above can lead to fines ranging from $1,500 to $20,000.

What is French generalization? 

An assessment of French generalization can involve examining the level of French knowledge of your management and leadership, the use of French as the language of work and as the language of internal communication, and the use of French in the working documents of the business (i.e. manuals and catalogues) and in public communications. 

In addition, the OQLF may examine your use of French terminology, French signs, posters and commercial advertising, whether your hiring/promotion policies consider the language requirements of each role, and how consistently information technologies are provided to Québec employees in French (s.141).

Assigning responsibility for linguistic compliance within your organization to a senior employee will help your global human resources organization to establish a practical framework for French translation. It will help you separate what Québec employees need-to-know to do their job from what is nice-to-know. 

Businesses considering entering the Québec market will be well-served by developing a knowledgeable internal resource who can serve as an escalation point to receive and remediate potential French language concerns.

 

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