Barefoot & the law

There is no law against walking, running or driving barefoot. However, there are some situations when footwear can be required:
  1. On private property, the owner or occupier can decide to make shoes a requirement. This could include homes, shops, universities, schools and places of work.

  2. When you enter a contract with someone and agree to wear shoes. For example:
    1. an employment contract that specifies workwear;
    2. a contract between a student and school or university;
    3. a contract with a transport or other service provider;
    4. a set of terms and conditions, such as for a sporting event like a triathlon where the organisers require footwear as a result of their constitution.

  3. Health & Safety laws can require footwear, such as PPE (personal protective equipment). Example: steel-toed boots on building sites. PPE is supposed to be a last resort where risk cannot be adequately controlled through other means.

Businesses are free to provide services (or not) to anyone they choose as shops are private property. The public are generally welcome to enter, browse and purchase during opening hours. Members of the public are said to have an "implied licence" from the property owner or occupier. The flip-side of this is that the owner/occupier can expressly retract that licence at any time, with or without a reason, except when it amounts to discrimination on grounds of protected characteristics (disability, race, etc). Once the licence is withdrawn, a person who refuses to leave becomes a trespasser.

Health & Safety

Blind justice
“Health & Safety” is most often trotted out as the excuse to deny service to barefooters, often by doormen or egotists needing to wield their authority. They cannot conceive that barefooters' feet might be rather tougher than their own soggy appendages. Self-control can be hard, but it's best to stay polite and non-confrontational in order to get along side them, and lead them by the metaphorical arm, to enable them to make a more accurate assessment of the risks.

If challenged on H&S grounds, why not ask for their “risk assessment” in respect of bare feet as against, high heeled shoes, flip-flops etc; and then if need be, contact the Health & Safety Executive for advice. The HSE is at pains to distance itself from the foolish application of H&S “rules” by ill-informed individuals who seemingly lack any common sense! Barefoot statistically causes fewer injuries than flip-flops or high-heels.

Duty of Care

Businesses have a “duty of care” to avoid acts or omissions that could be “reasonably foreseen” as being likely to cause injury. A breach of this “duty of care” occurs when their “negligence” results in a foreseeable loss or damage. Being barefoot could be seen as “contributory negligence“ that would reduce the damages paid for their negligence pro-rata, but can never mitigate their negligence completely.

Volenti non fit injuria

There is a common law principle called “Volenti non fit injuria” which translates "to a willing person, injury is not done". (A boxer cannot sue because another fighter hit him.) Your voluntary assumption of risk means that the company is not liable for any injury suffered directly arising from your own choice to go barefoot.


The HSE have a useful myth-busters article “Case 297 - Barefoot customer not allowed in supermarket store” that says:
There is no workplace Health and Safety legislation that would prevent a customer from entering a shop barefoot. The company are entitled to impose a dress code if they wish, however they should not use Health & Safety as an excuse to do so.

Letters from Companies

Here are a few letter that may be useful to keep on your mobile phone, along with the link to the HSE advice above:
Sainsburys (has no corporate policy requiring footwear)
Tesco (“customers can enter our stores without footwear”)
Actually shops are rarely any trouble at all, but if you have letters that can be anonymously shared here, please make contact.

This is not legal advice - there's a lot more complicated stuff! If you are a lawyer and wish to help improve this page then please do get in touch.

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Letters to the editor
Got an article?
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