Guns at the Workplace: An Employer’s Obligations

Recent news has many employers revisiting their policies on guns in and around the workplace, but find that regulating possession of firearms requires navigating various aspects of the law. Some find that the law puts them in a difficult position.

Gun-violence in the workplace can not only lead to serious disruption, tragic injuries and death, it also frequently creates legal liability for an employer.  Generally, employers can be liable under a state’s negligence laws if an employee causes gun-related or another injury to a customer or other third-party if the employer knew that the employee had a propensity towards violence.  If one employee injures another, the injured employee could also sue and may be eligible for workers’’ compensation benefits provided by the employer.  The federal Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OSHA”) also requires employers to provide a safe working environment, and gun violence in the workplace may result in liability under OSHA in some circumstances.

Given the danger to employees and customers and the potential legal liability, its easy to see why an employer would want a blanket prohibition on guns on the business premises.  However, that might not always be an option.  Although there is no federal law that specifically regulates weapons at private workplaces, state laws vary widely.  In some states, prohibiting firearms on company property is relatively straightforward.  In Missouri, for example, although state law authorizes the carrying of concealed weapons for those who obtain a permit, the law also permits private employers to prohibit weapons (concealed or otherwise) on the premises if the employer posts a specific form of notice.

However, other states have enacted so-called guns-at-work laws that specifically allow employees to bring concealed firearms on their employer’s property, regardless of an employer’s policy to the contrary.  Illinois, for example, also has a concealed-carry law that permits employers to prohibit the carrying of firearms inside the workplace so long as appropriate notice is posted, but Illinois’s law specifically permits employees to carry concealed firearms within a vehicle on an employer’s parking lot and to store the firearm and ammunition in a concealed case in a locked vehicle or locked container out of plain view in the vehicle.  Illinois employees with concealed-carry permits can also carry the firearm in the area surrounding the vehicle for purposes of storing or retrieving the firearm in the vehicle’s trunk.  Employers in states such as Illinois, therefore, face a situation where an employee’s access to a firearm may be as close as his or her car.

The key to creating effective and enforceable company policies on firearms without running afoul of state laws can be a challenge; but given the risk and legal liability to employers, it is one employers are well-advised to take-on.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for sixty years, and are available to discuss these issues and others.  As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.