Three Ways Bill 96 Will Affect Quebec Businesses (And How You Can Be Ready for It)
What is Bill 96?
Last spring, the Quebec Government tabled Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec. Its purpose is to ensure that French remains the main language spoken in Quebec and to prevent the gradual “anglicisation” of the province. The polarizing law was adopted in principle in November 2021. It covers several sectors of activity, including civil administrations, colleges and universities, and the business community, which will be our focus for this post. We’ll look at what Bill 96 means for Quebec businesses and how you can make your company compliant. Note that this is a general overview and is not meant to be an exhaustive list; talk to your lawyer for a more comprehensive course of action.
1. You won’t be able to include knowledge of English as a job requirement unless it is truly necessary for the position.
The rule: If you want to require knowledge of English (or any language besides French) from your current or potential employees, you’ll have to show that you’ve taken “all reasonable means to avoid imposing such a requirement.” It’s not entirely clear what counts as reasonable means, but in a press conference, Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette gave the example of working with foreign customers or foreign suppliers as reasonable grounds for requiring a second language.
This new rule comes in response to a 2020 poll by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) finding that 40% of Quebec businesses required or wanted knowledge of English in their most recent job postings.
The solution: You might think you need a bilingual copywriter or communications manager. Instead of looking for one person who can do it all, why not hire a qualified Francophone and turn to the services of a translation provider when needed? This approach expands your pool of suitable candidates to include those who might have great skills and valuable experience but not be bilingual. It will also likely improve the quality of your written communications, since few people actually write well in more than one language. In fact, in the translation industry, we refer to translators who are perfectly bilingual as “unicorns” because they’re so rare! Stop looking to hire unicorns and find a good translation partner instead.
2. Francization rules will apply to companies with 25 or more employees.
The rule: Previously, francization rules applied to companies with 50 or more employees. Once Bill 96 takes effect, even relatively small businesses will need to register with the Office québécois de la langue française. After you register, the Office will ask you to analyze the current use of French in your company. If upon examination the Office finds that the use of French is not prevalent enough within your company, you will have to adopt a “francization program” to rectify the situation.
In other words, companies with at least 25 employees will have to use French as the main language for internal communications and documentation, and will have to make sure that enough employees at all levels of the organization have a decent knowledge of French, in addition to respecting all the usual language laws that already apply for external communications.
The solution: If you’re a smaller business that operates mainly in English, now’s the time to make French usage and French learning part of your company culture. Encourage your non-Francophone employees to practise their French in the workplace, and encourage the Francophone ones to support them. Many Anglophone and allophone Quebecers want to improve their French but feel that they lack the time or opportunity to practise. The best way Francophones can help their colleagues feel more comfortable practising their French at work is by not automatically switching to English when they are addressed in French, and by not correcting mistakes unless asked for their feedback.
3. The rights provided for in the Charter of the French Language will be more tightly enforced.
The rule: The Charter of the French Language protects the right of employees to work in French and of customers to be served and informed in French. Under Bill 96, the OQLF will be given greater powers to deal with complaints regarding violations of these rights, to impose sanctions, and to work in collaboration with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail and the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse to address violations. Furthermore, according to Minister Jolin-Barrette, Bill 96 makes it possible for an individual who is refused service in French to bring a civil lawsuit against a company with more than five employees.
The solution: Be proactive—don’t wait for someone to lodge a complaint! Make sure that your website, signage, packaging, user manual, and promotional materials are available in French, and that employees in a customer-facing role are able to speak French.
Also review all your internal documentation. Find any policies, procedures, user manuals and group insurance contracts that aren’t available in French, and have them translated now. You’ll also want to start writing or translating all important emails in French. Going forward, you may find it simplest to write all communications in French originally, and have them translated into English as needed.
It’s easy with the right language partner.
For a smaller business that’s used to working in English and that relies on a lot of immigrant talent (tech startups come to mind), all this can sound a bit daunting. But francization doesn’t have to be a headache. The key is to build a good relationship with a local translation partner that can provide quick-turnaround and high-quality translations and that understands Quebec’s language requirements.
Agencies like OXO Innovation also provide other useful language services. For example, you could hire one of our interpreters if you want to hold a company meeting in French but some of your staff aren’t quite fluent yet. Or you could call on our copyeditors if one of your non-Francophone employees wants to practise writing in French and needs someone to polish their draft before it goes out.
There are lots of ways that the right language services partner can help you make French a bigger part of your company culture. Talk to OXO today to find out how we can help make your francization journey a smooth ride!