Magazine article Workforce Management

Employers Fire Back at Law Making It a Felony to Ban Guns on Company Premises

Magazine article Workforce Management

Employers Fire Back at Law Making It a Felony to Ban Guns on Company Premises

Article excerpt

NRA says a Florida measure allowing workers to keep loaded firearms in their cars would boost safety, while employers see increased danger, higher security costs and a negative impact on morale

A PROPOSED FLORIDA LAW is putting employers in the middle of a second Amendment firefight. The bill would permit employees to keep loaded guns in their cars on company premises, and it would expose employers that banned workers from doing so to third-degree felony charges, punishable by up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

Similar laws were passed in Alaska and Minnesota last year, but neither imposes felony charges on employers. Another bill is pending in Wisconsin, but it is unclear whether it would mandate criminal sanctions for employers, attorneys say. The Oklahoma Legislature also passed gun-carrying legislation that would penalize employers who break the law with up to a year of imprisonment and a $500 fine, but a group of employers has filed a suit fighting the statute. The law has not gone into effect, pending a judge's verdict in the case.

The National Rifle Association, a major sponsor of the Florida bill, says it plans to get the legislation introduced in all 50 states. In states like Utah, where the measure has been tabled, the group is figuring out ways to reintroduce it.

"We have employers violating the constitutional rights of their employees," says Marion Hammer, a former NRA president who is now the group's Florida spokeswoman. By having policies that ban employees from keeping guns locked in their cars on company grounds, employers are denying their workers' right to bear arms, Hammer says.

The NRA contends that employers are hiding behind "this sham of protecting their employees," when really these companies are forcing their anti-gun politics on their employees, Hammer says. If companies really wanted to protect their workers, they would allow them to keep guns in their cars, she says.

"Adequate documentation proves that taking the right to bear arms away from employees will lead to more violence," Hammer says, citing U.S. Department of Justice studies estimating that at least 78 percent of workplace violence involves robbery by strangers.

The statistics about workplace shootings cut both ways in the debate about guns on workplace premises. More than half of the 795 workplace assaults that occurred in 2004 were shootings, but only 8 percent of those were committed by a former or current employee, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. More than half of the workplace shootings were committed by robbers, while the rest were unknown.

But employers and opponents of the bills maintain that having firearms close by could make already tense workplace situations, such as disciplinary actions or firings, more volatile.

"It's not that we think this is going to be an apocalyptic kind of event and that there will be more blood on the streets," says Zach Ragbourne, a spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "But you do need to ask, 'Is 100 workplace shootings the problem, or is just one more workplace shooting a problem?'"

Not only will employers have to step up security if these bills pass, but they will have to contend with huge recruiting and retention issues, says Michael O'Brien, an employment lawyer and head of the Society for Human Resource Management's Utah chapter.

"A lot of people do not want to work with someone who has a gun in their car," he says. "Not to mention the managers who have to terminate that person." Utah's Legislature recently overturned a law similar to the ones being weighed in Wisconsin and Florida.

LIABILITY CONCERNS

Each time sponsors of the legislation introduce the bill in a state, they are careful to address any loopholes that they have missed in the past, attorneys say. The NRA's goal is to make the Florida law the model for all other legislation, says Brian Siebel, a senior attorney at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. …

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