Québec aims to strengthen communication in French at work – SHRM

Alexandre Fallon, Sven Poysa, Julien Ranger

Nov 3, 2021

If passed, changes proposed to the Québec Charter of the French Language by Bill 96 will make French the predominant language in Québec's workplaces, and employers in the province will have to show compliance with language regulations within three months or they could face fines.

In a recent interview with Catherine Skrzypinski for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Osler’s Alexandre Fallon, Julien Ranger and Sven Poysa outlined the challenges businesses face with the pending regulations.

Alexandre, a partner in Osler’s Litigation group, said he anticipates the bill will become law sometime before the end of 2021.

“The proposed amendments to the Charter of the French Language in Québec—if adopted—would be the most significant overhaul to the Charter since it was first introduced in the 1970s,” Alexandre said. “This will result in new requirements and new risks for companies operating in Québec.”

Businesses in Québec need to comply with provisions that address employee communications, employment offers, job postings, recruitment and hiring.

The accuracy of the French translation is important, as an employee could invoke the French or English version of a contract in case of a discrepancy, said Sven Poysa, a partner with Osler’s Employment and Labour Group in Toronto.

Employers and human resource departments in Québec must post fully bilingual—French and English—advertisements on jobs sites like LinkedIn and Indeed, as well as on provincial job boards or on employers’ websites, Alexandre said.

"These significant amendments to the Charter will ensure that French is the language of work in businesses employing more than 25 people in Québec,” Alexandre said.

Bill 96 also establishes that an employee can file a complaint with Québec's labour standards board—the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail or CNESST—if employers do not communicate in French, said Julien Ranger, a partner in the Pension and Benefits Group at Osler.

“Employees will also have the right to work in an environment free of discrimination or harassment while communicating in French,” Alexandre said.

He said Bill 96 would introduce several complications for HR departments in Québec, especially at small- and medium-size companies.

If an HR department does not have a fluent French communicator, it may need to hire outside vendors for help with payroll and translating documents into French, Alexandre said. HR may also need to educate senior leaders about bilingual e-mail communications — for instance, a CEO at an entity covered by Bill 96 would have to draft messages to employees in French.

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