Many employers assume that they have the right to prohibit their employees from having guns anywhere on their premises including parking lots. This workplace policy has been almost universal in most employee handbook for the last several decades. However, in several states this assumption is now wrong and in these states an employer cannot bar its employees from bringing guns to work and leaving them in their cars. Indeed, in some of these states, enforcing such a ban could subject the employer to criminal liability; an employee discharged for having a gun in the company parking lot might have a civil cause of action against the employer.
There are now 16 U.S. states that have enacted “bring your gun to work” laws to allow employees to carry weapons in their private vehicles so long as the weapons are locked, even when those vehicles are on company property. In addition, several other states including North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are considering similar laws. The spread of “parking lot” or “bring your gun to work” laws stem in part from an important 2008 Supreme Court ruling (District of Columbia v. Heller, 128 S. Ct. 2783) that struck down the District of Columbia’s handgun ban.
The trend toward enacting these laws is alarming some companies and business groups as policies designed to ensure safe workplaces clash with a citizen’s Second Amendment right to bear arms. These new regulations are of particular interest to employers, not only because of the potential for increased gun-related violence at work, but also based upon potential civil liability exposure, based upon an employee or customer’s involvement in, or being a potential victim of workplace violence involving a weapon. In addition, employers have also raised concerns about whether the law violates their duties under the very broad general duty clause of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards. A federal district judge recently ruled, however, that a similar law in Florida did not violate OSHA.
In general, “bring your gun to work” laws can be divided into two categories. The first includes six U.S. states with laws that constitute a severe restriction of the employer’s regulation of firearms in parking lots. The second category includes 10 states whose laws have exceptions that weaken the laws’ actual impact on employers.
The states with severe restrictions, which include Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota and Oklahoma generally prohibit employers from inquiring as to whether employees have a firearm inside their vehicle, prohibit any person legally entitled to possess a firearm lawfully locked in a vehicle on an employer’s property from limiting that right and may limit employers from creating a policy that would limit the ability of an employee to store a gun or firearm in their locked vehicle.
The remaining 10 states that have passed “bring your gun to work” laws are in the second category that provide exceptions to their “bring your gun to work” laws, thus allowing employers to restrict employees from bringing firearms to work. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, and Utah. 06-26-2011.