Magazine article HRMagazine

Sticking to Their Guns

Magazine article HRMagazine

Sticking to Their Guns

Article excerpt

Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, businesses are required to maintain safe workplaces. "Employers take very seriously the importance of making rules for the workplace and establishing a particular tone or culture within its employee teams," notes John Harrison, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Dallas and Nashville, Tenn. Those efforts generally include prohibiting dangerous items like guns and knives as well as disruptive behaviors such as drug use, gambling and fighting.

So how can HR professionals reconcile their workplace safety obligations with employees' right to bear arms?

Very carefully, experts say.

"On the one hand, firearms are deadly and may contribute to additional violence and fatal injuries," Harrison says. "On the other hand, the right to bear arms is grounded in the U.S. Constitution, and possession of firearms by licensed citizens may promote individual safety as well as safety in the community."

Parking Lot Laws

As a compromise solution, about half of the states in the U.S. have passed parking lot, or "guns in trunks," laws that create limited exceptions to employer policies banning weapons on their property. Such legislation allows employees to store guns in their personal vehicles.

The laws vary in their requirements, but they have a few things in common, including stipulating that the firearm must be:

* Lawfully possessed by the employee.

* Concealed from view.

* Locked in a personal vehicle (e.g., in the trunk or glovebox of an employee's car).

Many parking lot statutes prohibit firearms from being stored in companyowned vehicles, and none of them grant people the right to carry a gun into an office, notes Andrew Rogers, an attorney with Littler in Tysons Corner, Va.

"No states to date have attempted to create a right for an employee to possess a weapon in the workplace beyond the parking lot," Harrison explains.

Note that visitors to the property are treated differently than employees under many state laws, he says. Many states allow business owners to prohibit visitors from bringing weapons onto their property. However, Harrison says, business owners must often provide notice of a policy against weapons by a public sign or notice that is conspicuously posted at entrances and public areas. Some states-such as Texas- require specific language, sizes and locations for valid notices.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) hasn't weighed in on these laws and has instead deferred to states on the matter, notes Carla Gunnin, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Atlanta.

Opponents of guns in the workplace have challenged state parking lot laws, and courts have said that OSHA requirements don't pre-empt them, Harrison explains. …

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