Accueil » 51-1 ( 1996) » Le salarié, nouvelle conception civiliste !

Le salarié, nouvelle conception civiliste !

Fernand Morin


Dans quelle mesure le Code civil du Québec de 1994 retient-il une nouvelle conception du salarié ? Les treize dispositions (articles 2085 à 2097 C.c.Q.) qui traitent directement du salarié et de l'employeur sont-elles à ce point différentes qu'il nous faudrait reconsidérer les bases juridiques de la relation de travail ? Pour répondre à de telles questions, l'auteur rappelle la conception du salarié retenue au Code civil du Bas-Canada (1866) de manière à mieux saisir l'importance des modifications apportées en 1994. En un deuxième temps, une analyse critique de ces treize dispositions nouvelles lui permet de distinguer ce qui serait vraiment nouveau et aussi ce qui lui apparaît comme de simples mises en forme de l'état du droit au moment de cette codification. En cette période de changements profonds des «modes d'emploi», il importe de saisir la portée réelle ou virtuelle de toutes les modifications effectuées à la définition du salarié, base fondamentale du droit du travail.


To what extent does the 1994 Civil Code of Quebec include a new conception of the employee? Are the thirteen provisions (articles 2085 to 2097 C.C.Q.) that deal directly with the employee and the employer so different that the legal bases for the employment relationship should be reconsidered? In order to answer such questions, the conception of the employee as contained in the Civil Code of Lower Canada (1866) must first be referred to here so as to better grasp the significance of amendments made in 1994. Secondly, a critical analysis of these thirteen new provisions allows us to distinguish between what is really new, and what appears to be merely updating of the state of the law at the time of this codification. In particular, the thirteen provisions of the Quebec Civil Code can be grouped together under three titles:

Specifie Rights and Obligations of the Employer and the Employee

Three obligations are clearly imposed on the employer in article 2087 C.C.Q., that is, to allow the performance of the work agreed upon, to pay the remuneration fixed and to protect the dignity of the employee. Furthermore, the employee is bound to carry on his work with prudence and diligence, to act faithfully and to exercise discretion (article 2088 C.C.Q.). Because the contents of these last terms are so wide-ranging, we must find a way to make them explicit if necessary.

The Freedom of Agreement Between Parties Contained in the Civil Code of Quebec

Although the employment relationship is legally dealt with on the basis of a contract, the structural imbalance between the parties in this very same contract is noted. Thus, the employer may not, for his sole convenience, impose restrictive conditions on the employee's right to work (articles 2089 and 2095 C.C.Q.), nor may he legitimately require the employee to renounce his right to obtain compensation for an injury that he may suffer where the manner of resiliation is hasty or abusive (article 2092 C.C.Q.).

Resiliation of the Contract of Employment

A contract with an indeterminate term may always be resiliated either with simple prior notice (article 2091 C.C.Q.), or suddenly and unilaterally, if one party, in particular the employer, has a "serious" reason (article 2094 C.C.Q.). It is understood that the practical difficulty is knowing what may constitute such a serious reason and whether a distinction should be made with the much better known criterion of a "just and sufficient cause." It can be believed that tribunals will be required to answer these questions and that in the meantime, there is ample room for debate.

It is unfortunate that the Quebec Civil Code does not provide elements of answers to the following other two questions:

— Does this contract of employment (article 2085 C.C.Q.) continue to exist in the presence of a collective agreement?

— What are the legal grounds of the employer's disciplinary power, in particular for imposing a suspension? It should also be noted that the codifiers did not take the new trends of hiring through an intermediary into account, and that they did not provide criteria for identifying the real employer. This shortcoming may leave many workers in a precarious legal situation while the party who benefits directiy from the work would not qualify as the employer. Making these workers into small entrepreneurs would hardly be a socially equitable and just solution.