FAQ – Q20

Q20: What about stores that have signs or policies against bare feet?

We occasionally will see signs banning bare feet on the doors of certain businesses, but the vast majority of stores and other businesses in the U.S. do not display such signs, nor do they have any official policy requiring customers to dress in a certain way in order to be welcome.

Stores that do put up such signs send a negative unwelcoming message to every person that walks in the door, not just barefooters. But what many barefooters have found in their experience is that many stores with such signs typically don’t enforce them. Many of those signs were apparently put up as a way to deny liability just in case some injury happened to someone’s bare feet. Which means, they’ve in effect warned us, therefore they can say “we’re not responsible, since we told you shoes were required.”

Even in some stores that don’t display a sign, on occasion some employee may still confront a barefooter and claim it is a store policy to require shoes. Claiming store policy is an easy excuse and justification to discriminate against barefoot customers, because it’s difficult to argue against it, since we are not privy to the internal management decisions of the business.

Though indeed some businesses may actually have established official policies that require customers to wear shoes, much of time (maybe even most), these so-called “policies” are only in the minds of low level employees and sometimes made up on the spot. The reasons are varied, ranging from erroneous information the employee may have heard or been given to something more like a personal emotionally based dislike of bare feet in general.

In addition to store policy, a couple of other reasons are also frequently used to justify denying a barefoot customer entry or services:

· It’s against health department regulations.
· A bare foot could be easily injured, and the store would be liable.

Both reasons are basically erroneous. No health department in any of the 50 states in the U.S. regulates how a customer must be dressed inside any business, including restaurants, in spite of a popular myth to the contrary. More information on this can be found on our Health Codes and OSHA page.

As to a store’s liability for a barefoot customer’s injury, as long as it was not due to gross negligence on the part of the store – in other words, being aware of an unsafe condition and doing nothing about it (not exercising duty of care) – it is highly unlikely that the store could be held liable, due to comparative or contributory negligence laws, which vary by state.

Most barefooters have found that the best way to find out what a store’s actual attitude is, is for us to just walk in barefoot. What’s the worst than can happen? They tell us to put on shoes, or leave. And that leaves three possible options:

  • Attempt to discuss the situation with store management, emphasizing that our bare feet are totally our own responsibility,
  • Just leave, and find another store that’s willing to take our money and treat us with more respect,
  • Put on shoes if we have them available somewhere.

More than likely, most stores or other businesses will say nothing. But with experience, we soon learn what places are barefoot friendly, what places aren’t, and generally how to deal with confrontations should they occur.