General Question

Deidre's avatar

Can I legally refuse service to a disruptive, foul-mouthed customer?

Asked by Deidre (13points) August 28th, 2010

I own a small retail specialty store in a small town. Recently a customer came into my store and became very loud, foul mouthed and very disruptive with my employee. This person was told to leave the store and refused and became even louder and more disruptive. I called the police, the customer left the store before the police arrived. My question is; in the future if this person or another person with this type of behavior comes into my store, am I within my rights to legally refuse service to this person?

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17 Answers

Mamradpivo's avatar

Sure. However, expect it to get ugly.

Ben_Dover's avatar

Absolutely. Put a sign in a visible area near the cash register, “We have the right to refuse service to unruly persons!”

shpadoinkle_sue's avatar

Yeah, totally. If you have up that sign that says you can refuse service to anyone for any reason, do it. I’m not put off by those as a customer. It shows that you are serious about your business and that I must show you respect. Also, again if you haven’t, instruct your employee(s) about how to deal with those kind of people.

iamthemob's avatar

Why limit yourself already? The sign should read “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Rowdy customers are in fact the classic example of people who you have a legal right to refuse service to…in fact, picture a bar where you couldn’t legally get rid of them! On the other side, you have a pretty high duty of care as a shop owner to the safety of other shoppers on your premises, and should anyone besides owners get hurt, you may have to face a tort suit from the victim.

In terms of your legal rights, know that you pretty much want to have an articulable reason for the ejection (i.e., it cant be ARBITRARY), and that you should take care to avoid situations where you may be perceived to be refusing service based on federally protected individuals (e.g., food service to a blind man cause he could not read the menu), and definitely don’t establish a pattern of such ejections. The sign gives you some legal armor, but it doesn’t allow you to do whatever you want.

cazzie's avatar

You can even get a legal restraining order if they get really bad. We have chronic shoplifters that we (retailers) pass their photo around and call eachother when they’re in the neighbourhood. If they threaten anything other than small amounts of property they steal, say they threaten staff verbally or call them names or even touch them, we have the right to get a court order saying they can’t come within 10m of the store.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

If I were you, I’d check with a local business law lawyer in your town to see what your rights are for refusing a customer. Just because a business owner refuses a customer and receives no formal complaint, it doesn’t mean it is legal. (That’s like the, ‘Is it okay to run a red light late at night when no one else is around?’ scenario.)

Even if it is legal in your town, a lawyer can advise you how to handle it and what type of documentation you keep on each incident. This information could protect you should the refused customer become slanderous. The last thing a business needs is lose customers due to one person spreading stories about ‘poor service.’ Trust me; I’ve seen it happen.

chyna's avatar

I can see one of two things happening here.
The customer goes home, thinks about what a jerk he has been and never wants to show his face again, so no worries for you that he is coming back.
Or, he goes home and thinks about it and gets really mad that you threw him out, so now he is plotting his revenge.
It would be a good idea to check your legal rights with a lawyer and proceed from there.
But I think you did the right thing. Employees do not have to be verbally abused while working.

Nullo's avatar

The customer is not always right. It’s your establishment, not his.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Yes. The shop is private property so you don’t have to allow anyone in there you don’t like (as long as it’s not on grounds of race, belief or sexual orientation etc). You may lose customers but I imagine you’ll lose a lot more if you allow rude obnoxious people destroy the atmosphere you have worked hard to create.

gorillapaws's avatar

@Nullo that site is pretty funny. Thanks for the link and I completely agree with your point.

keobooks's avatar

I wish I could find the article I read the other day. A guy got a restraining order put against him and he was forbidden to go into a particular Safeway because he said that he liked big breasts to a lady working at the meat counter. He insisted that he only meant chicken breasts. She insisted that he was making fun of her big breasts.

I thought a restraining order was a bit severe for a social faux pas, but indeed—he was banned from the store and it was legal.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@chyna There is probably one more scenario: The customer goes home, realizes that they were wrong, go back to apologize at a later time and get the boot before they can utter a word.

@Nullo The link is funny, particularly for anyone in the service industry. Your statement is 100% true, but it doesn’t mean that it is within the guidelines of the law or would prevent damage to the business’s reputation.

@Lightlyseared Most observing customers will empathize with a shop owner who handles this type of situation professionally and courteously when a customer is out of line. If I were to witness a shop owner giving a customer the boot as soon as they walked in the door without knowing the background, I’d make a beeline for the door. They can also run the risk of becoming the local Soup Nazi.

I’ve worked in customer service for years in the hotel business, and we have had some real doozies go off the chart, and some are for completely unrelated things. It’s part of the business. Verbal abuse can be painful in the moment, but it can also be shaken off, and over time, become a funny story. Any type of threat or physical abuse is a whole other matter.

BarnacleBill's avatar

I was in line at a Sprint store, when a man came in, got in line behind me, waited about 2 minutes, then pushed his way to the front of the line, and said, “This is bullshit. I can’t wait. I refuse to wait. I have other things to do. I need for you to take care of me now.” The woman at the counter told him that everyone was waiting, and he needed to wait, too. He said, “Load of crap. All I want for you to do is transfer these pictures off my old phone for me.” A guy came out of the back, and said, “We told you before that you needed to go to the service store and they would be able to help you.” The guy said, “I don’t have the time to go there. They want to send my phone off to do it, and that’s bullshit.”

At this point, it became clear that this guy must have some sort of mental issues because rational people don’t act this way. They called the police, and he was ejected from the store, yelling, “That’s it! I’m changing to AT&T!”

There is a difference between ejecting this sort of customer, and or refusing to wait on someone because they are Muslim, Native American or African American, or disabilities.

iamthemob's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer and @chyna – I think that consulting a lawyer at this point would be premature. I’m all for risk aversion…however there are a few mixed free and commercial sites geared towards basic life legal questions, much like this one, which will most likely give you a basic idea of what you can pursue in the future should anything happen. Please know that whether you have the right to do something or now, people sue for no reason or misguided reasons sometime, and more often than not if you’re doing something that discriminates against another’s rights it will be very clear to you while you’re doing it if you’re a reasonable person. Whether or not you have a legal right to do something often has very little to do with whether or not you get screwed in the end, unfortunately.

actuallery's avatar

What did he want? Service? jk

I was a sales person for more than 20 years and found that some people expect service upon entering the store whereas other people like to browse before being attended.

If a customer is looking for attention and all staff are busy, you should attend to that customer even though you yourself are busy. I have served up to six people at one time and though it annoyed some of them, the others found it gave them time to think about their choices.

“You can please some of the people some of the time but only half of the people half of the time” (or something like that)

iamthemob's avatar


Sure, good service will generally smooth some things over. However, a belligerent reaction to bad service is never justified. We all overreact, of course, but if you’re going to take that route, I say prepare to be (legally) ejected (and also to more than likely have the other customers siding with the retailer). Then, you’re just going to end up doing what you should have done voluntarily when you received bad service – never shop there again. In the end, the market’s gonna generally weed out the outfits who give poor service to the customer, and blame the customer for not being happy with that.

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