The Charter of the French language, often referred to as “Bill 101”, protects the rights of workers with respect to the French language and sets out various obligations for employers in Quebec. It is a key part of Quebec society and can have a large impact on employers.
Generally speaking, employees have the right to work in French. To enable this, all written communication from employers to employees, as well as offers of employment or promotion, must be drawn up in French (they can also be in other languages). All employers are prohibited from making the knowledge of another language, other than French, determinative during the hiring process, unless the nature of the employment is such that knowledge of another language is a necessary condition of employment. Moreover, employers cannot dismiss, lay off, demote or transfer an employee because they do not speak a language other than French.
When a business has more than 50 employees, certain special rules apply to the employer. It must register with the Office de la protection de la langue française, who will issue a certificate of registration. Within six months of receiving the certificate, the business must submit an analysis of its linguistic situation to the Office. The Office will analyze the linguistic situation of the business and will issue a “francization certificate” if they believe that the use of French is generalized at all levels of the business. Should they determine that the use of French is not generalized, they will order the establishment of a “francization committee”.
The establishment of a francization committee is also a requirement for businesses with 100 or more employees. The committee is responsible for analyzing the language situation and making a report to management for transmission to the Office. When necessary, the committee will establish a “francization program” to generalize the use of French throughout the business. When the francization program has been implemented, the Office will issue a francization certificate.
The Charter of the French language and the Office de la protection de la langue française recognize that businesses in Quebec, especially when dealing with inter-provincial or international commerce, must communicate in English or another language other than French. However, for a company with 50 or more employees, French should remain the language of internal communication, especially with respect to the operations of the company and employer-employee relations.
The Charter of the French language imposes serious obligations on employers. Those who violate the law can face fines. Moreover, given that language in Québec is a hotly debated subject, violations of the law often end up being the subject of media reports. Forewarned is forearmed!