Retail Workers: What is considered a Retail Business?

Retail Workers: What is considered a Retail Business in Canada?

Retail Workers

So, what is considered a retail business? you might want to know. A retail business, for the purpose of the Employment Standards Act (ESA), is a business that sells good or services to the public. Restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, corner shops, car dealerships and hair salons are all examples of such retail businesses.

Many retail workers are surprised to learn that there are certain rights in the ESA that, with some exceptions that I’ll get to shortly, only apply to retail business. Specifically, retail workers have the right to refuse to work on public holidays and to refuse work on Sundays.

Right to refuse to work on public holidays

As an employee of a retail business, you have the right to refuse to work on a public holiday. Even if you agree in writing that you will work on a public holiday, you can give your employer 48 hours notice and decline to work.

If a public holiday falls on a normal working day you are entitled to take the day off with public holiday pay. If the holiday falls on a non-working day or you are on vacation, you are entitled to an alternate day off with public holiday pay.

Right to refuse work on Sunday

For many Canadians under 40, it might be surprising to learn that until 1985 it was prohibited to make business transactions on Sunday. Sunday shopping has only been a weekend activity for 34 years.

Nevertheless, employees hired before September 4, 2001 have the right to refuse work on Sundays. However, employees hired after this date do not have this right unless it is for religious beliefs or observances.

Employers cannot make working on Sundays a condition of hire if doing this would violate the Human Rights Code. Furthermore, you cannot be terminated, intimidated or punished for exercising your ESA rights to refuse work on Sundays or public holidays.


As is often the case with employment law, there are exceptions to the above rights. Employees working at the following retail businesses are not entitled to refuse work on public holidays or Sundays:

  • Restaurants, cafes and other businesses where the good being sold is prepared meals
  • Hotels, resorts, camps and other businesses that rent accommodations
  • Museums, galleries, stadiums, theatres, nightclubs and other education, recreation or amusement services as well as businesses on the same premises as such services that sell goods and services related to the services (i.e. a museum souvenir shop)

For legal advice and assistance with your rights as a retail worker, Call us today to book your consultation at 905-639-0999 or connect with us online by filling out a consultation request form.