An overview of Québec’s language laws and how they apply to businesses
This overview is meant to provide insight on Québec’s linguistic landscape and initiate discussion about your organization’s French language investment. It is based on our experience helping clients understand Québec’s language laws, the related regulations and how to best navigate them, but should not be regarded as legal counsel.
1. French in Québec : Some context
Enacted in 1977, the Charter of the French Language establishes a legal framework regarding language requirements for companies doing business in Québec french language. Its main goal is to ensure the longevity and promotion of the French language in Québec by making French the official language of the province, as well as the normal and everyday language of work, communication, commerce and business.
a) About the use of Québec French in commerce and business
The Charter has significant practical impacts when it comes to doing business in Québec, such as the following:
- Product labeling must be in French and the use of one or more other languages is optional. The same holds true for any documents supplied with the product (e.g., directions for use and warranty certificates).To the extent that another language is also used, it must not be given greater prominence than the French.
- The above rule also applies to commercial documentation used in Québec, such as catalogues, brochures and folders. This also includes the website of businesses with one or more establishments in Québec that offer their products and/or services for sale in Québec. Such a website must be available in French and the version of the website in another language must not be given greater prominence than the French version. For companies, this means that doing a professionnal english to french website translation is mandatory.
- Public signs and displays must also be in French or in both French and another language provided that French is markedly predominant (i.e. twice as visible in space or in size).
- In addition, standard form contracts, contracts predetermined by one party and related documents must be in French unless the parties’ express intent is to use another language.
- Businesses operating in Québec must also have a name in French. The use of non-French trademarks is allowed in Québec only where certain requirements have been met.
b) About the use of French in the workplace
- As well as establishing French as the language of commerce and business, the Charter has an impact on employment matters:
- As a general rule, workers in Québec have a right under the Charter to carry on their activities in French. They can speak and write in French and ask for French work documents and tools.
- More specifically, employers are required to use French in written communications meant for their staff in general, including messages posted in the workplace. These communications can also be bilingual as long as the version in English is not be given greater prominence than the French version. Communications to an individual employee can be in English.
- Employers are prohibited from dismissing, laying off, demoting or transferring employees for the sole reason that they speak exclusively French or have insufficient knowledge of another language.
- Proficiency in a language other than French cannot be a condition of obtaining employment unless the nature of the duties related to the position requires such knowledge. In such cases, it is up to the employer to demonstrate that another language is required.
c) Additional requirements for larger businesses
While the regulations listed above apply to organizations of all sizes, those employing 50 persons or more in Québec are subject to additional rules. For example, they are required to register with the Québec Office of the French Language (or OQLF based on its French acronym), the government agency responsible for the application of the Charter. This is the first step of what is known as the francization process, a process that aims to generalize the use of French in an organization’s Québec operations and leads to obtaining a Francization Certificate once all the requirements are met.
2. The business benefits of francization
Some organizations chose to view francization strictly as a legal challenge or compliance issue. However, if it’s planned and executed thoughtfully, your francization effort can generate opportunities and benefits in a number of areas:
- It ensures your conformity with any French language requirements that may be imposed to qualify for government contracts.
- It enhances reputation and builds French-speaking customer loyalty because they appreciate companies that make an effort to communicate in quality French.
- It generates employee affinity and pride because it says their employer respects them.
- It contributes to building the infrastructure, resources and expertise required to do business in other non-English-speaking markets.
3. A blueprint for your Québec market success
As a final thought, we firmly believe that offering your French-speaking customers with a quality experience in their mother tongue is your best calling card and the most effective approach you can take to create goodwill, build your brand and increase your market share in a profitable but culturally distinct market.
A skilled manager with a strong grasp of his métier, Jean–Guy Latulippe brings FIG Translation’s clients over 30 years of diversified experience in the fields of communications, marketing, business development and training.