Rights and Governments

Language Used in the Workplace in Quebec


All workers in Quebec, whether they work for a business, a non-profit, the Quebec civil service or a federal institution have the right to work in French. But that isn’t to say that people with limited knowledge of French can’t work in Quebec. As long as employers respect the following rules about language in the workplace, they can hire those who best fit their organization’s needs without facing legal consequences.


Bill 96 has changed some of Quebec’s language laws. This article is up to date and reflects the current rules.

The following rules apply to employees, whether they’re unionized or not. Other employees, such as Quebec civil servants and workers in federal institutions, must follow different rules which are briefly covered below. Volunteers, freelancers and professionals are not employees – the rules presented in this article do not apply to them. 

Language requirements for jobs

Employers can require knowledge of a language other than French for positions in limited circumstances.

Before posting a job offer requiring applicants to know English for example, employers must do a three-part analysis of the situation:

  1. The nature of the work and duties to be performed must require the knowledge of the language. For example, a call centre job that involves talking to people in the United States on a regular basis could require the knowledge of English.
  2. The employer has done all they reasonably can do to avoid imposing the language requirement, such as seeing if there are reasonable alternatives to work tools that exist in French.
  3. The current employees don’t have the required knowledge of the language or they can’t take on the additional workload.

After completing the three-part analysis, employers can post the job offer. This offer must state why knowledge of the language is required.

While employers don’t have to require knowledge of French in their job postings, such a requirement is possible. Since consumers in Quebec have the right to be served in French, employers must ensure that there is always at least one worker with sufficient knowledge of French on shift.

For more information about the language laws applicable to businesses, see our article Language Laws and Doing Business in Quebec.

Exceptionally, to get a job in the Quebec civil service, such as at Revenu Québec or in a CLSC or hospital, employees must know French. Each department or agency decides the level of French needed for a job, which has to be approved by the OQLF .

In some municipalities, English school boards and some health and social service centres are recognized as officially bilingual. French isn’t always needed to get a job or be promoted in these bodies.

Work-related communications that need to be available in French

Job offers and job application forms must be available in French, even if the position only requires knowledge of English or another language. These documents can also be available in other languages as long as the French version is just as accessible and equally publicized.

Other official documents must also be available in French, even if all employees are more comfortable in another language, like English. Translations in other languages are possible, as long as the French version is at least as prominent and of a comparable quality. These documents are

  • Documents relating to conditions of employment, like an anti-harassment policy or an employee handbook,
  • Training documents produced for employees,
  • Offers of transfer or promotion, and
  • Collective agreements and other agreements that apply to all employees.

Employers have to use French in written communications meant for their staff in general, including emails and messages posted in the workplace. Again, this is the case even if all staff are more comfortable in another language. Translations of these written communications are possible as long as the French version is as prominent and of a comparable quality.

Employees can request that private communications with them be in another language, like English. In such a case, employers can write to the employee in that language as long as the message is meant for their eyes only.

These rules on written communications also apply to communications following the end of employment.

Unless francization rules apply to the workplace, such as in the Quebec civil service or large enterprises, employees can speak with each other in the language of their choice. However, employers must ensure that employees are not harassed or discriminated against based on their lack of knowledge of a language other than French or their preference to use French.

Employers should also be aware that all workers in Quebec have the right to work in French. This means that workers can choose to speak and write in French and ask for French work documents and tools, including computer software.

Consequences of non-compliance for employers

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) can inspect workplaces or ask employers questions at any time to ensure compliance with the Charter of the French Language.  The OQLF can also do so after receiving a complaint from a worker, a job applicant, or anyone else.

If it deems it necessary, the OQLF can issue a warning to comply with the rules within a certain timeframe.  

If the employer doesn’t comply with the law within the specified timeframe, it could be fined between $3,000 and $30,000 for each day that the offence continues.  The fine is doubled for a second offence and tripled for any additional offence.

Exceptionally, if an employer repeatedly fails to respect the rules on language despite receiving warnings and fines, the government could suspend or revoke permits or authorizations the employer holds.

Complaints can also be filed against employers with the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST or labour standards, pay equity and workplace health and safety board of Quebec) if employers

  • punish an employee for exercising their language rights,
  • harass or discriminate or allow employees to be harassed or discriminated because of their use of the French language or lack of knowledge of a language other than French, or
  • unjustifiably require knowledge of a language other than French to keep a position or obtain a position through recruitment, hiring, transfer or promotion.

The CNESST will examine the situation and, if necessary, help the employee and employer come to a solution. If no solution is found, the file could continue before the Tribunal administratif du travail (administrative labour tribunal). In certain cases, the CNESST or a union could represent a worker before the tribunal.

Different rules

Professionals like nurses, engineers and accountants generally have to prove they know French well enough to do their jobs before they get their permits to practise. Professionals must also maintain an appropriate knowledge of French while they’re practising.

To learn more about the language requirements for professionals and the exceptions, visit the website of the OQLF (French only).

Workers in federal institutions, such as the Canada Revenue Agency or Canada Post,have different rights and obligations when it comes to language. These rights and obligations are different if the federal institution is in a bilingual region or a unilingual region.