Retail stores: What you need to know
The Alberta Human Rights Act protects members of the public against discrimination when using the services provided by retail stores. The AHR Act does not protect against poor treatment or bad service, unless it flows from a protected ground of discrimination such as physical disability, mental disability or race. Age is not a protected ground in the area of goods, services, accommodation or facilities. You can read more about age as a protected ground and about all protected areas and grounds.
Examples of discrimination covered by the AHR Act:
- denial of service based on any of the protected grounds except age, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, disability or source of income
- extraordinary attention from store security personnel based on any of the protected grounds except age, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin or disability
- discriminatory comments by store personnel based on any of the protected grounds except age, for example, race, ancestry, place of origin, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, or any other protected ground
- lack of access for people with mobility, hearing and visual disabilities
Examples of issues not covered by the AHR Act:
- denial of service because of a customer's age (because age is not protected in the area of services)
- denial of service because a customer has previously been abusive to staff
- denial of service because a customer has previously not paid for goods
- denial of service because a customer has stolen from the store in the past
Retailers are responsible for ensuring that their services do not discriminate against members of the public based on any of the protected grounds. To meet this obligation, retailers need to review their operations regularly to identify and eliminate any potentially discriminatory aspects of their service. For example, a retailer might survey its security staff to find out whether they are aware of their responsibility to treat all members of the public equally, and to not single out individuals based a protected ground like race or ancestry.
If a retailer has a requirement that would discriminate against people based on a protected ground like physical disability or religious beliefs, it has a duty to accommodate affected individuals to the point of undue hardship. Accommodation means making changes to any rules, standards, policies or physical environments to ensure that they don't have a negative effect on anyone based on any protected ground. For example, a retailer that won't allow mothers to breastfeed in its store discriminates against women based on gender and family status. The retailer could accommodate by providing a private area for mothers to breastfeed while in the store.
Individuals who require accommodation based on a protected ground have a responsibility to inform the retailer of their needs. Doing so gives the retailer the opportunity to make any changes necessary to accommodate the individual making the request, as well as anyone else with the same or similar needs. For more information about the duty to accommodate, see the Alberta Human Rights Commission interpretive bulletin Duty to accommodate.
In some circumstances, discrimination may be reasonable and justifiable. A retail service provider may refuse to offer services to some people based on one or more protected characteristics if providing the service would be an undue hardship. For example, a small retail shop located on the second floor of a heritage building that does not have elevator access may not be accessible to people with certain mobility disabilities. However, because the building has been designated as a heritage building, there may be regulations in place that prohibit altering the building. In this case, discrimination may be reasonable and justifiable.
Revised: April 11, 2017
The Alberta Human Rights Commission is an independent commission of the Government of Alberta.
Due to confidentiality concerns, the Commission cannot reply to complaints of discrimination by email. Please contact the Commission by phone or regular mail if you have a specific complaint.
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