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5 Things You Should Know Before Refusing Service to Customers

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Customers aren't always right, but then again, business owners and their employees make big mistakes all the time too. However, one mistake businesses should be careful not to make involves refusing service to customers when a law might prohibit doing so.

Simply put, while a business may "reserve the right to refuse service to anyone," that right is limited by federal, state, and local laws. For instance, you may not refuse service to a customer because of their race, national origin, or disability. But what about other reasons a business might decide to refuse service to a customer?

When a customer walks through the door and is tattooed head to toe, you may want to think twice before asking them to leave. Depending on where your business is located, or potentially whether the tattoos are religious or cultural, your denial of service might be seen as a discriminatory act.

OK to Refuse Service for Smelling Like Pot?

Although marijuana might be legal in several states, that doesn’t mean business owners have to allow customers into their business while they are high or smelling of marijuana. Generally, business owners will be in the clear to refuse service to customers with offensive odors, though there might be some exceptions to this for disabled individuals, or potentially even for individuals who rely on medical marijuana.

Can Your Business Ban Racist Customers?

While businesses cannot ban customers based on their race, they most certainly can ban customers who are racist. This is particularly so if that customer’s behavior or appearance would be menacing to others.

Can You Refuse Service to Nazis?

Generally, businesses can’t refuse service to people based on a customer’s beliefs, but if there are outward manifestations of those beliefs that are disruptive to other customers or staff, such as displaying a swastika or other hate symbols, then businesses most certainly can ban those customers.

Can You Refuse Service Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity?

Depending on where your business is located, the answer to this question varies. In states like California, the answer is a resounding no, while in other states, the answer isn't so clear. However, regardless of the legality of it, banning individuals who pose no threat of disruption or exposure to liability wouldn't seem prudent.

If you're considering instituting a blanket customer ban, seek out the advice of a local business attorney to ensure your new policy does not result in a new lawsuit against your business.

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