01 March 2019 Posted By : Todd Humber

No Frills supermarket tells customer with disability to shop elsewhere​

It’s a “human resources thing.”

That was the response of the owner of a No Frills supermarket in Whitecourt, Alta., when contacted by the CBC after a woman with disabilities was allegedly barred from shopping because it was taking her too long to bag her groceries. 

Um, yes.

It is an HR “thing.” It’s called accommodating people with disabilities. Which in Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia is a “legal thing.” And, really, for every other jurisdiction, it should be a “common sense business thing.” But what's that old saying about it not being so common anymore?

Linda Rolston had her voice box removed during surgery. As a result of that operation, she was left with limited mobility in her arms and shoulders, according to a CBC story

If you haven’t shopped at a No Frills supermarket, well, the name says it all. One of the frills not included is having someone help pack your bags at the checkout. For a lot of people, that’s not an issue. But for people with disabilities, or the elderly, it can pose a challenge. 

The solution cannot be, and should never be, to deny service to someone because of a disability. Loblaw knows this. I don’t know Mark Wilson, the EVP of HR and labour relations at Loblaw, but I guarantee he knows this and would be very unlikely condone this behaviour. (This is all part of what makes HR the hardest profession – with employees at locations across the country, franchise models and the countless microcultures that can exist within an organization? Herding cats is a cakewalk by comparison.)

But the store owners who are part of the Loblaw family clearly didn’t get that memo.

A Loblaw spokesperson pointed out to the CBC that its policy of equal access for people with disabilities applies to “corporate grocery stores” and not the No Frills franchises across Canada, which total more than 250 locations. 

Speaking of memos, here’s one to PR and communications professionals: Relying on a technicality in the fine print to condone or explain egregious behaviour is not a winning strategy.

Loblaw then decided to make a bad situation even worse. When Rolston first complained about being banned – she claimed she was told that if she can’t bring someone with her to help bag groceries, she should shop elsewhere – the powers that be came up with this solution: A $100 gift card, as long as Rolston kept her mouth shut. 

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