Language Laws and Doing Business in Quebec

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The Charter of the French Language (Charte de la langue française in French) is a Quebec law that makes French the usual language of business in Quebec.

 

Rules for All Businesses

Any person or company that sells products or services in Quebec has to follow the language requirements of the Charter. The following rules apply to all businesses no matter how big or small they are.

 

Business Names

All businesses that sell products or services in Quebec must have a French business name. A business can also have a name in English or another language, but there are special rules about when and how a non-French name can be used. 

To learn more, visit the website of the Office québécois de la langue française (Web page in French only).

 

Employee Language Rights

All workers in Quebec have the right to work in French. They can speak and write in French and ask for French work documents and tools, including computer software.

Employers can't fire or refuse to hire workers just because they don't know English or another language well enough. The only exception is if the job has to be done in another language. It's up to the employer to prove that another language is needed.

 

Communications with Employees and Workplace Signs

Employers have to use French in written documents meant for their staff in general, including messages posted in the workplace. But they can write to an individual employee in English or another language.

There can be a version of these official documents and messages in English or another language, as long as the French stands out at least as much.

 

Serving the Public

All businesses have to be able to serve the public in French. But they can serve a non-French speaking person in that person's language.

Telemarketing and voice-mail greetings and messages must include a French version if they are used in Quebec.

 

Public Signs and Advertising

In some cases, only French can be used, for example, advertising on buses and on some large billboards.

For some other types of signs and advertising, French can be used along with English or another language, as long as the French is clearly more predominant. "More predominant" usually means that the French version is at least twice as big, or takes up at least twice as much space, as the other language.

Signs and advertising for cultural products or activities and advertising in non-French media can be only in English or another language.

To learn more about the language used for public signs and advertising, visit the website of the Office québecois de la langue française (Web page in French only).

 

Products and Packaging

Anything written on a product sold in Quebec, or on its package, or in documents included with the product (for example, instructions for using the product and warranties) must be in French. Translations in one or more other languages can be included with the French.

 

Written Publications and Documents

Catalogues and brochures, order forms, receipts and warranties must be in French. There can be a version in English or another language as long as a French version is available.

Standard-form contracts must also be in French. These are contracts that are already prepared and pre-printed, such as cellphone contracts, gym memberships and leases. The contract must be in French, but there can be a version in another language if the consumer asks for it.

Menus and wine lists must also be in French as well. The French can be accompanied by one or more other languages, as long as they don't stand out more than the French.

 

Toys and Games

Toys and games, including computer games, which involve using language (for example, talking-dolls and Xbox games), can be sold in Quebec only if a French version is available. So, for example, an English-talking doll can be sold in Quebec only if an identical French-talking doll is available.

 

Software and Information Technology

Computer software sold or leased in Quebec must be available in French, unless no French version exists. Software can also be in English or another language as long as the French version works as well or better.

Anything written on computer hardware and accessories must be in French. For example, the "escape" and "delete" keys on computer keyboards must be in French. English or another language can be used instead, as long as a French version is available.

 

Business Websites

A business must have a French version of its website if

  • it has an address in Quebec, and
  • it sells its products or services to Quebecers.

Another language can be used as long as French is available.

Sometimes a business uses its website for "e-commerce" in Quebec, that is, for selling products or services to Quebec consumers over the Internet instead of at a physical store. If so, all the information that a consumer needs to make a purchase must be in French. This includes information about the product or service, order forms, invoices and receipts. English or another language can be used as long as a French version is available.

The websites of non-French media don't have to be in French. Also any website advertising of non-French cultural or educational products or activities doesn't have to be in French. See the "Exceptions" section below for more information on media and on cultural and educational products and activities.

 

Francization: Additional Rules for Larger Businesses

All businesses have to follow the rules explained above. Businesses with 50 or more employees have to follow additional rules. These rules are called "francization."  

Francization means that French must be the language usually used in the following additional ways:

  • internal and external communications
  • work tools and documents
  • internal networks, software and computer technology used inside the business

English or another language can be used as long as a French version is also available and French remains the usual language of the business.

In addition, the business has to increase the number of employees at all levels who know French well.

To learn more about francization, visit the website of the Office québécois de la langue française (Web page in French only).

 

Francization Certificate

A Quebec-government body called the Office québécois de la langue française (the Office) (Web page in French only) oversees the process of francization. The Office works with the business to increase the use of French over a period of time. Once the Office is satisfied that French is the usual language used at all levels of the business, it gives the business a francization certificate.

Some businesses must have an internal francization committee to oversee the use of French in the business. To learn more about francization committees, visit the website of the Office (Web page in French only).

After the business gets its francization certificate, it must make sure that French continues to be the normal language of the business. It must also report to the Office every three years on the use of French in the business.

If the business doesn't follow the francization rules, it might have to pay a fine ranging from $600 to $20,000, or even more.

The Office can make exceptions for head offices, research centres and some businesses.

 

Exceptions

The rules explained above are general rules and there are exceptions. Here are the main exceptions:

 

Public Health and Safety

If it is necessary for the health and safety of the public, both English and French can be used on signs. The part in French would have to stand out at least as much as the English.

Also, a safety warning that is engraved or permanently attached to a product that is made outside Quebec can be in a language other than French as long as a French warning is also permanently attached to the product.    

 

Cultural & Educational Activities and Products

The rules about signs and advertising, as well as what is written on a product or its package, don't apply to cultural or educational activities or products. Cultural and educational products include books, magazines and films. Cultural and educational activities include plays and conferences.

So, the writing on a package of a DVD of an English film can be in English only. Note that if the DVD lets you watch the film with French subtitles or listen to it in French, then the writing on the package has to include a French version.

 

Non-French Media

"Media" includes newspapers, television channels and radio stations. Advertising in non-French media can be just in the language of the media. For example, a commercial on an English television channel can be in English only, and an ad appearing in an Italian newspaper can be in Italian only.

 

Some Not-for-Profit Organizations

The rules about signs and advertising don't apply to religious, political, ideological or humanitarian messages that are not used for making a profit.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.