Quebec’s Bill 96: New Language Obligations for Businesses in Quebec
An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec (“Bill 96”) was passed by the National Assembly of Québec in June 2022. Bill 96 introduced significant changes that will impact businesses operating or having employees in Quebec as well as businesses with e-commerce platforms providing products and services to Quebec residents. Some of these changes came into effect on June 1, 2022, while others will come into effect on various dates over the next two years.
This article does not provide an exhaustive list or detailed description of changes introduced by Bill 96, nor does it provide a full analysis of the legislative changes or their anticipated impact on businesses. Instead, this article provides an overview of the following key changes created by Bill 96, which may be relevant for organizations conducting business in Quebec:
- Customer communications, trademarks, product inscriptions and advertising
- E-commerce for national and foreign companies
- Contracts with private entities and public bodies
- Employment matters
- Francization requirements
1. Customer communications, trademarks, product inscriptions and advertising
As of June 1, 2022, businesses that provide goods or services in Quebec must inform and serve their customers in French or risk fines, consumer complaints to the Office québécois de la langue française (“OQLF”) or other repercussions. Furthermore, documents and materials intended for the Quebec public such as advertisements, documents accessible online or content offered through digital platforms must be in French. These documents and materials may be in another language if there is a French version which is at least as favourable as the original language version.
There are also obligations in respect of non-French trademarks which will come into force in 2025. These obligations restrict the application of the “recognized trademarks” exception and apply to product packaging and labeling as well as public signs and posters.
As of June 1, 2022, a company not established in Quebec that provides products and services to Quebec residents will have to comply with the language requirements of the Charter of the French language (“Charter”). If the company is non-compliant, the OQLF may, amongst other remedies, issue orders prohibiting the sale of that company’s goods and services to Quebec residents.
3. Contracts with private entities and public bodies
As of June 1, 2023, subject to certain exceptions, companies conducting business in Quebec will have to provide contracts of adhesion in French. A contract of adhesion is a non-negotiable contract provided by one party to another. Contracts of adhesion may include certain agreements between corporations and their shareholders, such as agreements to be bound by an existing shareholder agreement that are signed by new shareholders. Contracts of adhesion may still be entered into in another language if the parties first examine a French version of the contract and then agree that the contract can be drafted in another language.
Contracts that are not contracts of adhesion (i.e., where terms can be negotiated by the parties) do not have to be drafted in French if the parties agree that these contracts are to be drafted in another language. In addition, certain contracts with the civil administration (i.e., the government, government departments and government bodies) must also be drawn up in French.
4. Employment Matters
Bill 96 imposes several new requirements on Quebec employers. As of June 1, 2022, employment contracts of adhesion in a language other than French will be binding only if the parties first examine a French version of the contract and then agree that the contract can be drafted in another language. Further, Bill 96 now requires that employers communicate or draft documents in French in certain circumstances (i.e., offers of employment or promotion; training documentation for staff). There are also new requirements which govern Quebec employers looking for workers with knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than French.
5. Francization Requirements
Bill 96 expanded francization requirements for companies with Quebec employees, which means such companies may need to account for additional French requirements as part of their general business affairs. These requirements vary according to the number of Quebec employees in an organization.
As of June 1, 2022, organizations that breach certain provisions of the Charter or orders made by the OQLF or the Minister of the French Language may face fines ranging from $3,000 to $30,000. Fines are doubled for a second offence and tripled for subsequent offences and where an offence continues for more than one day, it will constitute a separate offence each day the offence continues. In addition to these fines, Bill 96 also increases the powers of inspection and investigation of the OQLF.
Bill 96 imposes several important changes that will apply to the way businesses operate in the province of Quebec or offer products or services to Quebec residents. Organizations should be prudent in adapting to these changes to ensure full compliance with these amendments, especially when engaging with Quebec consumers and dealing with Quebec-based employees.
Note: LaBarge Weinstein LLP does not have lawyers qualified to practice and advise on law in the Province of Quebec. We are therefore providing this article for information purposes only to enable clients affected or potentially affected by these legislative changes to consult with qualified Quebec counsel.