As an employer, you have a right to set policy for your private property, right?
Apparently not when it comes to guns. An employer’s private property rights are taking a back seat to employees’ rights to keep loaded guns in their cars in workplace parking lots. At least that’s the word from the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ruling is the latest development in a series of events that began in Oklahoma in 2002 when Weyerhaeuser employees were fired for having left firearms locked in their vehicles in the plant parking lot. In reaction to these firings, the state legislature enacted a law banning companies from restricting workers’ ability to carry legal firearms in their vehicles. Many employers – Weyerhaeuser Corp., Whirlpool Corp., and ConocoPhillips among them – challenged the Oklahoma law on safety grounds. In October 2007, a U.S. District Judge issued an injunction against the law on the basis that it conflicted with an employer’s legal obligation under OSHA to maintain a safe workplace.
In its decision, the appeals court noted that OSHA took a neutral stance on the law and, therefore, the law did not create a conflict.
Since this ruling, both Arizona and Utah legislators have made progress on enacting similar bills. In both places, there has been significant opposition to these laws, particularly from business and employer groups. But such opposition did not stop the passage of a similar law in Florida last year. Ironically, guns are not allowed in most of the chambers where such laws are decided. Guns are not allowed in most federal offices or in many state and municipal offices.
This decision is a substantial victory for the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association, which has been going state by state to promote such legislation. Employers are left with the burden of maintaining a safe workplace while being disallowed from establishing safety policies of their choosing for their own property.
While several such state laws have provisions that offer some thin liability protection to employers, there are other losses that could occur as a result of a gun-related incident at work. Such losses could include business interruption, loss of reputation, an increase in absenteeism, a decrease in employee productivity and morale, and increased disability and workers compensation losses. Waivers are also unlikely to protect an employer from employment suits such as negligent hiring or negligent retention. Is your business ready for the heightened security burden that this additional risk will impose?
The parking lot today, but one has to wonder if the next battle line will be the workplace proper. Will the NRA soon be lobbying for the right of employees to arm themselves at their workstations to be protected from co-workers who retrieve loaded weapons from the parking lot and begin a shooting rampage?


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