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Can You Defend Your Business in California?

F. Michael Ayaz

If you have a business in California, you have likely worked tirelessly to build your business and reputation and want to ensure the safety of your property, employees, and customers. California law allows you to take reasonable steps to defend your business, but the legalities are complex. When wondering, “Can you defend your business in California?” know that an Orange County business law attorney can help you understand your options.

A Business Owner’s Right to Self-Defense

Although California allows businesses to defend their property and employees within reason, determining what is reasonable can be more complicated. Your rights apply to real property, like your storefront or office building, and personal property, including inventory, equipment, and intellectual property. Using force to protect any of these things requires proper justification. Some scenarios where reasonable force might be justified include:

  • A shop owner stopping a customer from shoplifting.
  • A security guard detaining someone attempting to steal or destroy building materials at a construction site.
  • A restaurant employee removing a rowdy patron who refuses to exit after being asked repeatedly.

The vital element in these situations is whether the individual is using appropriate force for the circumstance. A court may deem using extreme force in these circumstances unreasonable.

Castle Doctrine and California Businesses

Some states have a “stand your ground” law that allows individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves whether or not they have the opportunity to retreat. California does not have one of these laws but abides by the “castle doctrine.” With “castle doctrine” rights, Californians can defend themselves with deadly force, if necessary, when protecting their home.

A primary difference between the stand-your-ground and castle doctrine is that the latter ends when you leave your real property. Additionally, the force used against an intruder has to be equivalent to the feared harm. The castle doctrine emphasizes protecting your residence. However, there are limitations when it pertains to business settings.

When You Must Retreat

California law becomes complicated when discussing whether business owners should retreat from the threat of danger. It is wise to make a reasonable faith effort to retreat when possible, as California law emphasizes individuals’ being on their real property in castle doctrine. Depending on the circumstances, if you choose not to retreat and are later at the mercy of a jury, you may find yourself with a guilty verdict.

Focusing on De-escalation When Possible

Due to the unclear messaging in California law, attempting to de-escalate a situation when safe can be the optimal option. The limitations mean that business owners can protect themselves by:

Implementing Security Measures

Sometimes, investing in measures such as security cameras or alarms can help deter crime. In the case of an incident, these systems can provide evidence after the fact. Installing sturdy doors, window grates, motion detectors, effective locks, keyless entry systems, proper fencing, and outdoor lighting can all be ways to increase security before an incident occurs.

Conducting De-escalation Training

Employees trained in de-escalation techniques may help avoid forceful situations before they arise. Recognizing potential conflict warning signs and suspicious activity can educate staff on preventing or reporting possible hostile situations. Also, retaining employees who are communicative and strong problem-solvers can increase your establishment’s professionalism while minimizing stressful situations.

Establishing Clear Policies

Installing clear policies on how employees should handle shoplifting or other disruptive behavior can significantly impact the company. You can minimize risk and ensure every staff member is on the same page. Additionally, if applicable, employees should be shown how to properly handle cash, and overall cash amounts should be limited to minimize theft risk.

Seeking Legal Consultation

Consulting with a business law attorney can give you personalized, skilled advice for your business and its safety.

With every situation being unique, it can help to err on the side of caution when dealing with circumstances that can go awry. Most skilled attorneys may recommend retreating when possible. These individuals can help you understand your California legal rights.

By implementing proactive security measures and de-escalation techniques, you can ensure your business is safe and secure and that your staff understands how to prevent hostile situations.

Extreme Force as a Last Resort

Using extreme or deadly force is a severe action with legal consequences. Attempting to avoid it at all costs can help you and your business. Suppose there is no reasonable other option to protect yourself, others, or your company from imminent harm. In that case, a court may believe it was your last resort. Using extreme force is never something to take lightly.


Q: Does California Allow Business Self-Defense?

A: California allows business self-defense to a point. The law lets business owners and employees reasonably defend their property, but limitations exist. Using deadly force on someone not forcibly trespassing or attempting to cause harm can cause trouble. There are justified forms of reasonable force to prevent theft, vandalism, burglary, and robbery. Many of these forms are not deadly and fit the crime.

Q: What Is the Castle Defense Law in California?

A: The castle doctrine law, or castle defense, removes a Californian’s duty to retreat. This distinction means that people have the right to use force, even deadly, when protecting their real property, typically meaning their homes. The penal code of California uses the word residence when explaining castle doctrine, which some believe only applies to a person’s home.

In other words, the castle doctrine does not automatically extend to business settings but may sometimes apply. However, a business owner may have a legal obligation to retreat when possible.

Q: Can You Use Force to Remove Someone From Your Business in California?

A: In California, you may be able to use force to remove someone from your business. That force must be reasonable or proportional to the threat the individual poses to you. Defending yourself with proportionate harm can be valid if you are threatened with imminent harm. An example of excessive use of force is causing physical harm to someone who is loitering on your property.

Q: How Can I Legally Protect My Business?

A: While you can use proportionate or reasonable self-defense to protect your business legally, it is wise to be proactive when possible. There are many ways to be proactive for your business’s protection, including:

  • Addressing safety concerns and implementing security measures.
  • Training all employees on de-escalation skills and techniques.
  • Having a clear, legible, and aptly displayed trespasser policy.
  • Developing an emergency plan.
  • Consulting with a security professional.
  • Understanding your legal rights.

Learning to Defend Your Business Rights

Owning a business can be stressful, even without the added pressure of protecting it. An Orange County business law attorney will have the knowledge you seek regarding your rights as a California business owner. If you need help with business litigation, we are here for you. Contact Blake & Ayaz for education on your legal rights to protect your business.

We’re Ready To Go To Work For You!