Court Upholds Termination of Employee Who Used A Handgun to Prevent a Robbery

With so much media attention devoted to gun violence lately, it is somewhat surprising that a court upheld an employer’s decision to terminate an employee for using a concealed handgun to prevent a robbery.  Last week, in Hoven v. Walgreen Co., No. 13-1011, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the employer’s decision to terminate an at-will employee for using a concealed handgun in the workplace did not violate Michigan public policy.

In 2007, Hoven, a licensed pharmacist, experienced an armed robbery during his night shift at Walgreens.  After the robbery, Hoven asked Walgreens to install additional security cameras and devices.  After Walgreens refused Hoven’s requests, Hoven lawfully obtained a Michigan license to carry a concealed weapon.  Thereafter, Hoven brought a handgun to work which he concealed in his pocket.

In May 2011, Hoven was again subject to an armed robbery during his night shift.  After one of the masked individuals pointed a gun at Hoven, Hoven drew his concealed weapon and fired it several times. No one was shot or injured during this incident. Eight days later, Hoven was terminated for violating Walgreen’s non-escalation policy.

Hoven brought suit alleging that he was terminated in violation of public policy for exercising his rights of self-defense, defense of others, and to carry a concealed weapon.  Simply put, Hoven argues he should not have been terminated for exercising his right to defend himself and his fellow employees and his right to carry a concealed weapon.

The district court granted Walgreen’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that Hoven failed to identify a public-policy source that supports his claim.  Specifically, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that Hoven could not identify a general policy in Michigan that prohibits the discharge, discipline, or other adverse treatment of at-will employees who exercise their right to bear arms or carry a concealed weapon.  In fact, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals noted, private employers in Michigan are specifically allowed to prohibit employees from carrying a concealed handgun in the workplace.  Mich Comp. Laws §28.425n(2)(b).

Employers would be well-served in closely monitoring their state’s laws regarding the lawful possession and use of handguns on private company property.  As you may know through our previous newsletter, individual state laws vary greatly with respect to this issue.  Under some state laws, employers can keep guns out of offices and factory floors, but do not have the legal right to ban weapons in the parking lot. Therefore, a general, “one size fits all” handgun or anti-escalation policy may not be appropriate for employers located in multiple states.

McMahon Berger has over 50 years of experience dealing with nation-wide employment handbook policies and other employment related matters.  If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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