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.
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 (Office) (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 nature of the job requires the knowledge of another language. However, employers must take reasonable steps to avoid requiring a language other than French. Also, when posting a new job, employers must indicate why another language is required.
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 upon their request.
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 must be able to serve the public in French. But they can normally serve a non-French speaking consumer in that person’s language. However, if a business serves a public other than consumers, it must be done in French.
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. This is the case, for example, of advertising on busses 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 québécois de la langue française (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 cell phone 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 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.
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 advertising on websites of non-French cultural or educational products or activities don’t have to be in French.
The rules for business websites (above) also apply to social media accounts. If a customer posts a comment on social media in a language other than French, the business can reply in this language. However, if the customer posts in French, the business must reply in French.
For more information on how the Office québécois de la langue française interprets the rules for social media accounts, see their guide “Les médias sociaux et la Charte de la langue française : Guide pratique à l’intention des entreprises” (in French only).
Francization: Additional Rules for Larger Businesses
All businesses must 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 (in French only).
A Quebec government body called the Office québécois de la langue française (the Office) 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 (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 $700 to $30,000, or even more.
The Office can make exceptions for head offices, research centres and some businesses.
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 education products include books, magazines and films. Cultural and educational activities include plays and conferences.
So, the writing on a package of a Blu-ray of an English film can be in English only. Note that if the Blu-ray 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.
“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.