Sticking to Their Guns
How can HR balance the rights of gun owners with safety in the workplace?
Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, busi-
nesses are required to maintain safe
workplaces. “Employers take very seri-
ously 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 recon-
cile 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
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,
• Lawfully possessed by the employee.
• Concealed from view.
• Locked in a personal vehicle (e.g., in
the trunk or glovebox of an employee’s
Many parking lot statutes prohibit
firearms from being stored in company-owned 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 conspicu-
ously 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 Gun-
nin, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in
Opponents of guns in the workplace
have challenged state parking lot laws,
and courts have said that OSHA require-
ments don’t pre-empt them, Harrison
explains. So experts advise HR to refer
to state laws when developing relevant
policies and practices.
What does this mean for workplace safety issues? There’s a litigation
risk whenever someone is injured at
work, Rogers points out. For one thing,
employers may face standard tort liabilities—such as negligence claims—for
injuries that occur on their property.
They might also have to deal with a
By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP