On June 20, 2023, Bill C-13 received royal assent. Its full title is 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.
Among other things, Bill C-13 updates the Official Languages Act and enacts a new law, the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act (Act). The Act sets out various rights and duties pertaining to the use of French as a language of work and service in federally regulated private businesses operating or carrying out business in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence. The purpose of the Act is to foster and protect the use of French in federally regulated private businesses in Quebec and in these regions. The regions will be determined by the federal government at a later date.
While this bulletin covers the main provisions of the Act that impose new duties on federally regulated employers in Quebec, it does not address all its provisions.
The Act applies to all federally regulated private businesses, i.e., any person that employs employees in connection with a federal work, undertaking or business as defined in section 2 of the Canada Labour Code, with the following exceptions:
Any person that employs fewer employees than the number of employees specified in the regulations.
Any corporation that is incorporated to perform functions on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Any corporation that is subject to the Official Languages Act under another Act of Parliament.
The Act does not apply to federally regulated private businesses in respect of activities or workplaces related to the broadcasting sector.
Charter of the French Language
The Act provides that if a federally regulated private business chooses to be subject to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language (Charter), the Charter then applies to such business instead of the Act with regard to, among other things, the business’ workplaces located in Quebec.
A federally regulated private business that chooses to be subject to the Charter must, in accordance with upcoming regulations, give notice of the day on which it will become or cease to be subject to the Charter.
Language of Work
The Act provides employees of federally regulated private businesses with certain language rights at work. Federally regulated private businesses have the duty to ensure that their employees can exercise such rights.
Employees’ Language Rights at Work
Pursuant to the Act, employees in Quebec and in regions with a strong francophone presence have the right to:
Carry out their work and be supervised in French.
Receive in French all communications and documents pertaining to their work, including employment application forms, employment/transfer/promotion offers, individual employment contracts, documents related to conditions of employment, training documents produced for employees, notices of termination of employment, as well as collective agreements and their schedules.
Use, in French, work instruments and computer systems that are regularly and widely used.
Furthermore, parties to an individual employment contract that is a contract of adhesion may only be bound by a version of it in a language other than French if, after examining the French version, such is their express wish. A contract of adhesion is a contract whose essential provisions may not be negotiated by the employee. In all other cases, an individual employment contract may be drawn up exclusively in a language other than French at the express wish of the parties. This exception applies to private agreements (i.e., agreements that are freely negotiated between parties).
The Act also provides that federally regulated private businesses located in Quebec or in regions with a strong francophone presence may continue to communicate with, and provide documents to, their employees in English, as long as the use of French therein is at least equivalent to that of English.
Fostering and Generalizing the Use of French
Federally regulated private businesses that have workplaces in Quebec or in regions with a strong francophone presence must take measures to foster the use of French in those workplaces. This includes informing their employees of their rights and of the business’ duties pursuant to the Act, and establishing a committee whose mandate is to support the business’ management in fostering and generalizing the use of French.
Knowledge of a Language other than French
A federally regulated private business that has workplaces in Quebec or in regions with a strong francophone presence may not adversely treat an employee (e.g., dismissing, laying off, demoting, transferring or suspending an employee, harassing them, taking reprisals against them, disciplining them or imposing any other penalty on them) for any of the following reasons, among others:
The employee speaks only French.
The employee does not have a sufficient knowledge of a language other than French.
The employee claims the possibility of expressing themselves in French.
The employee has lodged a complaint with the Commissioner of Official Languages.
When a federally regulated private business is made aware of such adverse treatment, it must take all reasonable measures to make it cease. It should also be noted that the Act provides similar protections against adverse treatment of employees who occupy a position in a federally regulated private business in Quebec at the time of the Act’s coming into force, if such employees do not have sufficient knowledge of French.
Requiring an employee to have knowledge of a language other than French does not constitute adverse treatment if the federally regulated private business is able to demonstrate that the employee is objectively required to possess such knowledge by reason of the nature of their work, and if the business sets out the reasons justifying this requirement in any advertisement to fill a position requiring such knowledge.
In order to demonstrate that knowledge of a language other than French is objectively required by reason of the nature of the employee’s work, a federally regulated private business must, before requiring such knowledge, at a minimum:
Assess the actual language needs associated with the work to be performed.
Verify that the language knowledge already required of other employees is not sufficient for the performance of that work.
Restrict the number of positions involving work whose performance requires knowledge of a language other than French.
The Act sets out that the above-mentioned conditions are not to be interpreted as imposing an unreasonable reorganization of a federally regulated private business’ affairs.
Finally, the Act establishes new remedies available to former, current and potential employees of federally regulated private businesses that enable them to lodge complaints with the Commissioner of Official Languages in order to assert their language rights at work.
For more information, please contact:
Natalie Bussière +1-514-982-4080
Catherine Gagné +1-514-982-4085
Francis Laperrière Racine +1-514-982-4149
or any other member of our Employment & Labour group.
Blakes and Blakes Business Class communications are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. We would be pleased to provide additional details or advice about specific situations if desired.
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