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3 Ways You Can Legally Refuse Service to Customers

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

You should be familiar with the "We reserve the right to refuse service" placard in restaurants, and you may even sport one in your own small business.

But is your "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" policy legal?

Here are three legal ways that you can turn a troublesome customer away.

1. No Flip-Flops in Your Shop

There are federal laws in place that protect a business owner's right to keep your employees in closed-toe shoes. But refusing to serve barefoot customers may be the wrong step.

Despite a popular myth, there are no state health codes that legally require stores or restaurants to require customers to wear some sort of footwear. (Again, employees are a different story.)

So your business can have whatever sort of shoe policy it desires -- you may just want to avoid claiming that your policy is mandated by law.

2. Turn Away Non-Paying Customers

If your business sells books or magazines, you have every legal right to kick out someone who has set up camp in your shop like it's a library.

You have the right to ask someone to leave if you believe they can't or won't be purchasing anything in your establishment, especially if they've left without paying before.

But be careful: Don't stereotype based on looks; public accommodation laws in most states, including California, prevent businesses from using a person's race, sex, or even height and weight to turn them away for assuming they will not pay.

3. Religious Reasons for Refusal

Many small business owners have deep religious convictions which not only guide their spiritual lives but also how they run their businesses.

For example, some religious business owners in the bridal industry have stood behind their beliefs that same-sex couples should not be married, and in some cases have refused to do business with gay couples seeking to wed.

But many states' laws prohibit businesses from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Still, that hasn't stopped some small business owners from testing that law, The Huffington Post reports.

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