The Charter of the French Language (Charte de la langue française) is a Quebec law that has rules about using French in the workplace.
The Charter has more rules for large businesses and the Quebec civil service than for small businesses. Other rules apply to federal institutions (see sections below).
Rules for All Workplaces
Right to Work in French
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.
Workers can't be fired or refused a job 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. An example is a call centre job that involves talking to people in the United States on a regular basis.
Official Documents and 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 is at least as prominent.
The rules for official documents also apply between unions and their members.
Communicating With the Public
The charter says that every person in Quebec has the right to be served in French. So workers who deal with the public have to know French well enough to communicate with the public in French.
Additional Rules for Larger Workplaces
Businesses with 50 or more employees have to follow special rules to make sure French is the usual language of work. These rules are called "francization." Exceptions can apply to some head offices and research centres.
A Quebec government body called the Office québécois de la langue française (the "Office") (Web page in French only) oversees the francization process.
Francization requires that French be the language usually used in the business's activities. For example, French must be the language usually used for the following things:
- internal and external communications
- computer technology, including computer programs, software, company websites and company internal networks
- work documents, reference manuals, catalogues, and forms
- work tools and equipment
- during meetings and training
English or another language can be used as long as a French version is available and French remains the usual language of the business.
To learn more about francization, visit the website of the Office (in French only).
Quebec Civil Service
The Quebec civil service includes Quebec-government departments and agencies, for example, Emploi-Québec and Revenu Québec. It also includes municipalities, school boards and public health and social service centres, for example, CLSCs and hospitals.
The Quebec civil service must follow francization rules and other strict rules for making French the language of work. These are the main rules:
To get a job in the Quebec civil service, you must know French. Each department or agency decides the level of French needed for a job, and the level of French has to be approved by the Office (Web page in French only).
In general, written letters, memos and emails must be in French. But an individual citizen can ask the civil service to communicate with her in English. Also civil servants can use another language when writing to people, businesses and governments outside Quebec.
Work Tools, Work Documents, Information Technology
Work tools and work documents, including software installed on computers, must be in French.
Some municipalities, English school boards and some health and social service centres can apply to the government for special status as "recognized" bodies. Some of the rules on using French in the Quebec civil service don't apply to recognized bodies, and French isn't always needed to get a job or be promoted in these bodies.
The following are recognized bodies:
- municipalities where more than half the residents have English as their mother tongues
- English school boards and the bilingual Commission scolaire du littoral (Littoral School Board)
- public hospitals and other health clinics where a majority of the patients speak a language other than French
Recognized bodies can use another language either alone or with French for some things. Here are some examples:
- Recognized bodies can serve people in their own language.
- Recognized school boards can use English alone in documents dealing with teaching, such as lesson plans.
- Patient files in recognized health centres can be in English or another language, but a French summary must be given to someone who asks for one.
Note that recognized bodies must also be able to offer their services in French and use French when needed in written documents.
Our article Health and Social Services in English explains the rules on language in the health and social services system.
Professionals include doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers and accountants. Professionals have to prove they know French well enough to do their jobs before they can get their permits to practise. Some might have to pass a French exam. There are two exceptions for professionals who have permits from outside Quebec:
- temporary permits to let them practise their profession in Quebec for a limited time
- special permits to let them work in Quebec for one employer only but not to serve the public
To learn more about the language requirements for professionals and the exceptions, visit the website of the Office québécois de la langue française (in French only).
Special rules apply to the language used in federal institutions. "Federal institutions" include the Parliament of Canada, Canadian-government departments and certain other organizations, for example, Canada Post, Via Rail and Air Canada.
English and French are the languages of work in federal workplaces. The federal government has named some parts of Canada "bilingual regions." If you work for a federal institution in a bilingual region, you have the right to choose to work in either language. You can choose English or French for the following:
- speaking and writing
- training and other services
- work tools and documents (for example, reference manuals)
- software on your computer
- supervision and evaluation
But for some jobs, you might have to use the other language to communicate with the public in your region, or with people working in a non-bilingual region.
For a list of bilingual regions in Canada, visit the website of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
To learn more about the language of work in federal institutions, visit the website of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
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.