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Bill 96 and SMEs | A word of advice: start now

Updated: Feb 6

Whether you agree with Bill 96 or not, the fact of the matter is that by June 1, 2025, businesses with 25 or more employees in Quebec will have to register with the Office québécois de la langue française and implement a program that ensures the use of French is sufficiently generalized throughout the company’s activities. This used to be mandatory for businesses employing 50 people and more, and is being extended to smaller ones.


Pile of thick binders filled with paperwork

If you’re one of these businesses, I’ve got a word of advice for you, or actually two: first, try to keep calm and second, get a head start now so that you’re ready to register by 2025, which will come faster than you expect.


The francization process is not actually that complicated. The Office’s linguistic assessment form may appear intimidating but filling it out properly is not impossible if you put in the necessary time and effort. The real challenge is managing the many changes that the new provisions will require. All experienced managers know that it’s not always easy to get people to accept change, especially when habits are pretty much set in stone.


This is often the case when it comes to IT tools, for example. Over the years, a great many people, including Francophones, have become accustomed to working on English platforms. They feel at ease navigating program menus and features in the language of Shakespeare.


Businesses with 25 employees or more will now have to install by default the French version of programs on most of their workstations. Exceptions will need to be kept to a minimum. Employees—and probably management too—will need help adapting to the French versions. Keep in mind that this means you’ll also have to deal with their frustrations.


Organizations will also have to ensure the generalization of French in their communications. This includes emails, training material, verbal instructions, work meetings and plenty more. But how should you proceed when your teams are made up of people from different backgrounds—and sometimes even located in other provinces with no francization requirements? How can you get francization and efficiency to go together hand in hand?


Getting creative


You’ll have to be creative when it comes to finding solutions that suit your workplace. You’ll have to manage change. And this takes a lot of planning and time.


New provisions in the bill force employers to take reasonable means to avoid requiring their staff to speak a language other than French—even when the company carries out part of its activities in other languages. But how can you serve your non-French-speaking clients if your team members speak only French? You might have to rearrange job duties and schedules.


Companies will also be expected to promote French among their employees, increase the number of people with a solid knowledge of the official language at every level in the hierarchy, make sure they use French terminology and so on. Plus, they’ll have plenty of obligations to their customers and the general public, including on digital platforms. The requirements are numerous. Remember my first piece of advice: try to keep calm. But then start planning.


The June 1, 2025 deadline to register your company with the Office québécois de la langue française may seem far away.


But it’s really not.


Get your analysis started now. This way, you’ll get a snapshot of the situation and have the time to properly tackle the changes leading up to the deadline. And you’ll avoid having to implement a francization program that’s even more of a hassle to deal with.


This opinion letter was originally published in French in La Presse.

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