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Despite Business Opposition, Workplace Gun Laws Survive

The proliferation of new laws addressing the possession of firearms has brought about an issue that could directly impact many workplaces. Gun owners with handgun carry permits can now, in many states, bring their guns into parks, bars, schools, and the workplace.

Laws passed in at least nine states prohibit employers from banning employees from coming to work with their legally possessed guns in cars parked on employer property. Alaska, Minnesota, Kentucky, Kansas, Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia have all passed such laws. These laws have been assailed by opponents as illogical and dangerous but, like it or not, they are surviving opposition and growing in number.

Citing statistics showing that a significant amount of workplace violence involves employee-owned weapons, many employers have implemented violence-prevention measures that totally ban guns in their workplaces. Such policies often encompass the employer’s total premises, including parking lots and garages. Other employers provide lockboxes for the secure containment of guns that are allowed to be brought to the workplace.

In the past, employers were able to use their discretion in adopting policies and procedures that best addressed the safety needs of their unique workplaces, while keeping their employees safe. With the increasing number of “guns at work” laws, employers are losing their power to manage this issue as they see fit.

State-by-State Comparision of 50 Employment Laws in 50 States, including gun laws

Oklahoma. Oklahoma was one of the first states to pass a so-called “take your gun to work” law. Despite being enacted five years ago, the law’s implementation was delayed until 2009 due to a series of legal actions that began immediately after its enactment.

Florida. In 2008, Florida enacted a law broader than that of Oklahoma. Similarly, the Florida law was also subject to immediate legal challenge.Since only the portion of the law allowing employees to bring guns in their cars is actually in effect, the status of the law in Florida remains confusing for employers. Employees who legally own guns may take them to work and lock them in their cars, but customers and invitees may not. Tricky situations arise for employers when an employee who “clocks out” of work and stays on the premises to shop, eat, or otherwise conduct business becomes a customer or invitee. Do those employees lose their right to have guns in their cars once this happens?

Other states’ laws
The “guns to work” laws enacted in other states are similar to those of Florida and Oklahoma with a few key differences. For instance, Louisiana’s law gives employers more flexibility in limiting guns. The law allows employers to prohibit an employee from locking a gun in his car when the employer-controlled parking lot limits public access by use of a fence, security gate, or other similar means. Another nuance in the Louisiana law allows employers to prohibit guns in vehicles when the vehicles are owned or leased by the employer, but used by the employee in the course of his employment.

Among the states that have enacted some type of gun to work law, most have also enacted companion laws that limit an employer’s liability for an employee’s gunrelated injuries. No doubt in reaction to opposition over the increased liability these laws subject employers to, they provide little comfort to employers. It is unclear how much protection they will actually provide and how workers’ compensation claims will be handled.

Idaho has taken a slightly different tack, enacting a law this year to provide civil and criminal immunity to employers who have specific policies allowing guns to come to work in cars. While Idaho has yet to require employers to allow guns, the bill’s sponsor indicated the law was designed to “encourage employers to allow employees to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

Another troubling aspect of some states’ gun laws is that their violation may subject employers to criminal penalties. Oklahoma, perhaps encouraged by the federal court’s decision earlier this year, recently enacted another law prohibiting employers from asking employment applicants for information about whether they own or possess a firearm. Employers can be criminally prosecuted for violations of this law and punished by fine, imprisonment, or both.

Although strongly opposed by business and employer organizations across the country and gun control advocates such as The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, it appears that these “guns to work” laws, and more like them, will be around for employers to deal with for some time to come. Not only are states passing this legislation, but the laws are surviving legal challenges and great opposition from private and public groups. Other states’ gun laws are not far behind. Tennessee, Texas, Missouri, and Arizona also saw similar bills in their 2009 legislative sessions.

Monthly update on employment law changes from all 50 states – Employers State Law Alert

Related gun bills
As if an employer’s task in figuring out how to comply with these new “guns to work” laws weren’t difficult enough, related bills in many states complicate matters further. Some states have passed laws allowing guns to be carried in bars and restaurants, as well as state and local parks. These laws also raise issues for employers. It is unclear whether an employee working in a bar or restaurant is allowed to carry a legally concealed weapon, as the law would seem to allow, even if it would be in violation of the employer’s policy banning weapons in the workplace. Similarly, contract employees working on state or local park premises would seem to be technically allowed to carry legally concealed guns to work although their employer may have a policy against it. It remains to be seen how employers will address these complicated situations and how, when challenged, courts will decide.

Basic Training for Supervisors – easy-to-read training guides, including workplace violence

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