by Kara E. Shea
A new Tennessee law clearing up two years of confusion related to whether employers can enforce no-weapons policies goes into effect July 1. Gun-rights advocates have prevailed.
The new law prohibits employers from firing employees for complying with Tennessee’s “guns in trunks” statute, which was passed in 2013. That law states that gun owners with handgun carry permits may bring firearms onto their employer’s property so long as they keep the guns locked in their vehicle out of “ordinary observation.”
The 2013 law seemingly conflicted with employers’ ability to enforce strict no-weapons policies, but it didn’t expressly address the issue or indicate whether an employee who is fired for having a gun in his vehicle would have a valid wrongful termination claim.
Since the 2013 law’s passage, some members of the legislature have contended that the law prohibited employers from firing employees for complying with it, but Tennessee’s then-attorney general issued an opinion saying that the law decriminalized only the carrying and storage of firearms in certain circumstances and had “no impact on the employment relationship between an employer and an employee.”
The new guns-in-trunks law clarifies that employers, regardless of size, are prohibited from discharging or taking an adverse employment action against an employee “solely” for having a firearm in her vehicle so long as the firearm is stored in compliance with the statute.
Tennessee employers should review and, if necessary, revise their workplace violence and no-weapons policies in light of the new law. Employers need to be careful when disciplining or terminating employees who are known gun owners, even if the discipline or termination is for other reasons since—as with any protected category—an employee may raise an issue of pretext (a false reason) regarding an adverse employment action.
Also, the new law doesn’t contain a limit on employer liability for workplace violence involving guns stored on employer property.
For more information on the Tennessee guns-in-trunks law, see the May 2015 issue of Tennessee Employment Law Letter.