Communtity Law Manual | Gender & sexuality | Access to shops, businesses and public places

Discrimination based on sex, gender or sexual orientation

Access to shops, businesses and public places

Shops, businesses and other public places can't discriminate against you

Human Rights Act 1993, ss 42, 44

It's illegal for a business to refuse to deal with you or to treat you less favourably than other people because of your sex, gender or sexual orientation. This includes not just shops and restaurants and so on, but also banks, loan companies, and finance or insurance companies.

It's also illegal for any business to refuse to let you enter their premises if it's a place that's otherwise open to the public – like a cinema or bus.

Even if there are separate toilet or changing facilities for men and women (this is legally allowed), you're allowed to use the one that best matches your sex or gender identity.

In some countries, wedding businesses run by people with particular religious beliefs have been allowed to refuse to provide services for gay couples, and bakers have been allowed to refuse to put pride messages on cakes. This is not allowed in New Zealand: no-one has the right to refuse to serve any customer on the basis of sex, gender or sexual orientation.

See also “Discrimination / Shops, banks and other businesses”.

Exceptions: When shops, businesses and public places can legally discriminate against you

Human Rights Act 1993, ss 42, 45-52

There are some exceptions where discrimination is legally allowed – here are some of the more common ones:

  • Private clubs are allowed to choose new members on any basis. For their existing members, the usual rules about discrimination apply.
  • People who provide highly personal courses or counselling can exclude people based on their sex, gender or sexual orientation.
  • Insurance companies are allowed to offer different terms to people of different sexes as long as they have good statistical reasons.
  • Superannuation schemes can discriminate by sex if it's “reasonable” and based on evidence.
  • Sports are allowed to restrict by sex or gender, but only if the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant.
    • But that sex exception for sport doesn't apply to children under 12, so there's no right to refuse a child under 12 from participating in a sport because of their sex or gender.
    • Sports are also not allowed to discriminate when it comes to umpires, coaches, or administrators.
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