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What is the purpose of “Employees Only” signs?

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You may have wondered why California storeowners and businesses place signs on certain doors saying “Employees Only” or “Authorized Personnel Only.” While it is certainly true that businesses may be trying to control what goes on behind closed doors, for example, the protection of employee property, the availability of sensitive or proprietary information or business inventory, but they may also be attempting to minimize the risk of harm to persons who are unfamiliar with certain hazardous or dangerous conditions. Sometimes such conditions are a necessary part of their operations, such as, when a retailer needs to store heavy boxes in a back room or a manufacturer has to use and operate heavy machinery.

Every owner or occupier of land or property, including a person who controls or leases property, is obligated to maintain and keep property in a reasonable way. This means that a duty is owed to persons who come onto the premises with respect to the use and maintenance of property, as well as any dangerous conditions present.  The nature of a duty owed to others coming onto premises varies.

In California, several factors bear upon whether a person has acted reasonably with respect to the land he or she owns, occupies, leases, or controls, such as, the degree of difficulty in protecting others from harm or how much control one actually has over the property, the likelihood someone might use the property in a particular way or suffer harm by coming on to the property, and whether it is reasonable for someone to know that a risk of harm exists.

The placement of signs on a door with certain images or words may be an attempt to warn others that a risk of harm exists. It may also serve to reduce the risk of liability to persons who are not invited to enter. It may be an effort to comply with state or federal requirements, for example, see this OSHA signage requirement. Using generally understood language and symbols can signal to someone that they cannot enter. Keeping doors locked alerts others that they are not permitted in certain locations. Finally, indicating to others that a room or area is only for designated or authorized personnel may be a way for responsible persons to say to the public: You are not permitted to come here and you should know that if you do, you may not have sufficient knowledge of your surroundings to avoid harm.

This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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