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 any protected ground of discrimination. The protected grounds are race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation.  

Examples of discrimination covered by the AHR Act:

  • denial of service based on any of the protected grounds for example, race, physical disability, ancestry, place of origin, or source of income
  • extraordinary attention from store security personnel based on any of the protected grounds for example, race, physical disability, ancestry, or place of origin
  • discriminatory comments by store personnel based on any protected ground 
  • lack of access for people with mobility, hearing and visual disabilities

However, one exception that allows a specific type of age restriction that does not contravene the AHR Act is benefits for minors or seniors. You can read more about age as a protected ground  and about all protected areas and grounds.

Examples of issues not covered by the AHR Act:

  • 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 Commission human rights guide 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: July 4, 2018



Our vision is a vibrant and inclusive Alberta where the rich diversity of people is celebrated and respected, and where everyone has the opportunity to fully participate in society, free from discrimination.