I attempted to research this on my own, but found absolutely no results. Is there anything legally restricting customers from entering areas marked "employees only" and/or areas that aren't marked but are clearly not intended to be accessed by the public (such as a stockroom, employee bathroom, etc.)? Is it any form of trespassing or something similar that an employer could use as basis for legal action or calling law enforcement in an extreme case (e.g., disgruntled customer walks into the employee only area and refuses to leave until xyz demands are met)?

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    Yes, it's trespass. Yes, they can take legal action, including police regardless of what the unauthorised person is doing
    – user4657
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 3:11
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    @Nij sounds like an answer, not a comment.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 17:44
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    Two sentences isn't an answer, regardless of how poor an example some users have been making.
    – user4657
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 17:58
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    @Nij Then don't write it. Stack exchange was designed to remove the flood of "My two cents" comments that littered the traditional forums.
    – pipe
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 13:28
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    @Nij – Point of information: The Stack Exchange model works best when answers are posted as answers, no matter how short.
    – feetwet
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 21:59

3 Answers 3


Most jurisdictions define trespassing as being immediately trespassing if you are somewhere

  • you have been previously warned away from (kicked out of the mall) or
  • where there are signs posted denying permission to enter
  • certain places where it's obvious, such as a private home
  • certain places defined by law as not needing signs because signage would be impracticable and it should be obvious - military bases, power plants, railroads, national borders, yada yada

Otherwise they require a cycle of confronting you, and warning you off, possibly with explanation of which property you are being warned off from.

So it's trespassing immediately if you knowingly barge past an "Employees only" sign. In the case of a genuine inadvertent whoopsie, it's unlikely the case would go very far. But if the facts and circumstances make the case that your invasion was intentional, then it is not innocent and those facts and circumstances enter into it.

Without a demarcing sign along an entry path, I think the retailer owes you a warning, unless the facts of the installation make it obvious.

So for instance if you got into a tiff with the desk clerk and disagreed that he was out of stock of the latest XBox and barged into the stockroom looking for Xboxen, I would expect your name on a police report. As a practical thing, police are not punishing crusaders, and if no harm is done, they will simply want to assure you don't do it again. They hope a thin blue adjudication will suffice, as they are partial to the lowest friction method.

So there is no "one free trespass" in law, but there is in practice.

Some jurisdictions treat certain activities (on certain types of land) as not trespassing; e.g. hunting or snowmobiling. This forces the signs to enumerate each activity: "No Hunting Or Trespassing". There are also many narrow exceptions in the law. e.g. utility workers to maintain power lines or cut trees. Some of those are Federal and pre-empt any state laws.

  • In the US, even an inadvertent trespass is actionable.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 5:14
  • @A.fm. True, just improbable. I'm told that excluding the improbable violates forum rules, so I'll at least mention it. Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 5:55
  • Yeah I think of two scenarios: children playing tag and accidentally cutting across he corner of a neighbor's lawn (highly unlikely anything comes of that) vs. a group of hunters who inadvertantly wander into and subsequently take a deer on another's property (by no means certain, but I think substantially more likely something may come of it, depending).
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 5:58
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    @A.fm. Good point about the hunters. In some jurisdictions there are exceptions for things like that. Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 6:18

...a disgruntled customer walks into the employee only area and refuses to leave until xyz demands are met.

That is called trespassing.

Trespass is defined by the act of knowingly entering another person’s property without permission. Trespass | Wex Legal Dictionary | Legal Information Institute

The boundary between areas legally accessible by the public and not is marked by the "Employees Only" signage. "Employees Only" in that context means "No Trespassing." The property owners, the police and the courts understand that.

(Trespassing) is held to infringe upon a property owner’s legal right to enjoy the benefits of ownership.

Of course, criminal charges and possible civil actions vary among jurisdictions, and can be superseded at the local, state and federal level.

Criminal charges, which range from violation to felony, may be brought against someone who interferes with another person’s legal property rights. Criminal trespasses, depending on the venue of jurisdiction and case circumstances, fall under different subsets of law.

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    This answer appears to rely on signage, but the question explicitly asks about areas which are not obviously signed, as well. Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 7:58
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    @AndrewLeach: Actually, the definition given is "without permission". There's no permission either for areas that are obviously not for customers. True, the permission to access the intended customer area is not explicit, but this is well-understood. For instance, an "Open" sign on the front door is an implicit permission.
    – MSalters
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 8:09
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    @AndrewLeach No, the law as it is written relies on the act of knowingly entering another person's property without permission. And before you pull breath to say "But if there are no signs I cannot know for sure that this area was off limits for me", no... that will not work because the courts expect you to be a reasonable person. The "reasonable person" argument is one of the rare occasions where you can get slapped for not using common sense / common knowledge.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 9:15
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    @AndrewLeach those are two different questions, and should be posted as such! But, if it is not obviously off-limits, then you are not trespassing until you are informed it is a private area, asked to leave, and refuse.
    – JeffUK
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 9:26
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    @DavidRicherby This is most likely jurisdiction dependent, but I highly doubt that any jurisdiction will differ between "entering" and "remaining" when judging whether it is trespassing or not. The Swedish Criminal code for instance explicitly defines trespassing as "Unauthorised entering or remaining". You need the "remaining" part because a property owner must be allowed to revoke permission for a person to remain in a property. You cannot have a situation where a person — if they were once allowed to enter — can then refuse to leave even if permission to be there has been revoked.
    – MichaelK
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 10:44

None of this discussion about the signs amounts to anything, really.

All of these questions will vary by jurisdiction, but typically, you can stand anywhere in any privately-owned store and be asked to leave and refusing to do so would be considered trespassing. The existence or not of a sign is irrelevant to a trespassing case.

The sign exists to notify the public that the area is not intended for their use. The implication is that ignoring the sign may lead to your being asked to leave. However, the sign confers no benefit or burden on an area of space in a store under the law.

Further, to the extent the signs mean anything to anyone, it is more for the benefit of the store itself. If someone is injured by machinery or something else back there, the existence of the signs demarcating that space from the public space will help the store's ability to not be liable for the wandering customer's injuries.

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    Basically, correct, If you walk into a store and go into the "employees' only" section, barring some special statute for dangerous workplaces, for example, there is not automatically some enhanced seriousness of the matter, nor would a serendipitously adjacent police officer immediately arrest you. It's about notice and the implications a reasonable person draws from the notice.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 17:46
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    That is my understanding of how the enforcement of such signs generally works. As an example, in my state open carry is legal for licensed individuals, but some private businesses choose to post "no open carry" signs. Technically, there is nothing illegal about open carrying there anyway, but if you are seen doing so the owners may ask you to leave; if you refuse, they can call the police and report you as tresspassing, and if you continue to remain on the premises you can be charged with tresspassing, but the sign is practically meaningless.
    – Herohtar
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 20:10
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    Yes. One distinguishing factor, though, is that if a party goes into the back area of ______ Store and, while back there, is injured by something that is usually back there and working properly, the signs, if posted, can potentially bolster a defendant company's or store's defense. The sign may be found to have provided adequate notice to the plaintiff that the plaintiff was on notice not to go back there. Then again, a simple "employees only" likely wouldn't suffice if one walks back there and encounters a pack of wolves or something. Will vary by case and jurisdiction.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 20:26
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    re: "...you can stand anywhere in any privately-owned store and be asked to leave and refusing to do so would be considered trespassing..." Even privately owned "public" places are subject to civil rights law. If you put up some variant of a "no blacks/women/jews/arabs" sign, or consistently ask some class of people to stop trespassing in your store, you will be subject to prosecution in many countries, including the USA.
    – Taryn
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 23:39
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    Of course. OP did not mention racial, religious or any other prejudice. OP asked about trespassing so I kept it narrowed to that topic.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 2:45

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