By Scott I. Zucker, Esq.
The question of whether an employer can restrict their employees from bringing guns into the workplace has continued to be a challenging issue around the country, especially as we experience more workplace violence incidents. Like other businesses, operators of self-storage facilities similarly address the question of how to handle this issue on their properties.
As the questions have circulated, numerous states have enacted their own laws to address this issue in order to provide guidance to employers who are anxious to create safe workplaces for their employees. The states have enacted these laws because there is no federal law that regulates guns in the workplace.
Here are a few of the more common questions that arise on this topic:
• Can an employer restrict their employees from bringing guns into the workplace even if the employee has a concealed carry license? Generally, yes. If the policy is expressed in an employee handbook or otherwise posted, the violation of the policy can result in the termination of an “at-will” employee. No states have created a right for an employee to possess a firearm in the workplace. The general point of view on this issue relates to the employer’s duty to create a safe work environment. The prevailing belief is that allowing guns in the workplace may otherwise subject an employer to liability if an employee is injured by a gun allowed on business premises.
• Can an employee store their weapon in their car at work? Based on state law, employees are generally allowed to store their weapons in a locked private vehicle in the business’ parking lot, even if the employer owns the lot. These “guns in trunks” or “parking lot” laws allow employees to store guns in their personal vehicles but require that the firearm be lawfully possessed by the employee, concealed from view, and locked in the trunk or glovebox of the vehicle. The states that have these parking lot laws include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.
• Are there other state laws that impact guns at work? Interestingly, there are a number of gun laws in place around the country that impact both the employer’s and employee’s rights concerning gun possession. For example, some states do give employers the right to forbid firearms on any company property, including their parking lots, whereas other states, like Ohio, Texas, and West Virginia, have passed laws prohibiting employers from forbidding the storage of a firearm in a locked vehicle. Some states, like Florida, prohibit employers from searching employees’ cars for firearms. However, other states, like Georgia, allow an employer to search an employee’s vehicle if the “situation would lead a reasonable person to believe that accessing the vehicle is necessary to prevent immediate threat to human health, life, or safety”.
• What about employer’s rights relating to an employee’s gun ownership? It is a constitutional right to own a gun or to carry it if properly licensed. As such, although employers do have the right to control their workplace and, in some instances, their parking lots, typically employers cannot make hiring and firing decisions based solely on whether the applicant or employee owns a gun or has a carry permit, assuming the applicant or employee does not violate any company policies in the workplace. In fact, Indiana Code 34-28-8-6(c) prevents employers from terminating or refusing to hire employees based on gun ownership.
The best answer to many of these questions is for employers to check their state laws and apply those laws and their company policies, via proper notice, to their employees so that the employees know their rights, as well as their responsibilities, when it comes to guns in the workplace.
Scott Zucker is a partner in the law firm of Weissmann Zucker Euster Morochnik & Garber, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia.