Recently, several states have passed laws that significantly restrain employers' abilities to prohibit guns on their property. In the past few months, Georgia and Louisiana have joined Florida in becoming the most recent states to enact "guns at work" laws. The Florida and Georgia laws took effect July 1, 2008, while Louisiana's law was effective August 15.
Most "guns at work" legislation has been controversial among firearm owners and private property owners. As a result, the Florida law recently was challenged as unconstitutional. Despite this challenge, a federal court refused to enjoin the portions of the law that apply to employer actions toward employees and applicants who possess valid Florida concealed weapons permits. This court's ruling is not a final decision on the merits of the law. A final ruling is expected in the summer of 2009. In the interim, the provisions of the law related to employees are in effect and employer compliance is mandatory. For more information regarding the Florida law, please see our Legal Alert, Florida Governor Signs "Bring Your Guns to Work" Law, located on our web site at http://www.fordharrison.com.
The Georgia "Business Security and Employee Privacy Act" revised the law relating to the possession and carrying of firearms to state that the Code shall not prohibit any person from transporting a loaded firearm in any private passenger motor vehicle, as long as that person in not ineligible for a Georgia firearms license. Additionally, the law makes it unlawful for employers to condition employment on an agreement by a prospective employee that prohibits the employee from entering the employer's parking lot if the employee's privately owned vehicle contains a firearm that is locked out of sight, if the employee has a valid Georgia firearms license. The law also prohibits employers from searching an employee's vehicle parked in the employer's parking lot.
Although the Georgia law appears to impose considerable restrictions on employers, the law also contains significant exceptions. Most notably, the law states that nothing in its provisions shall restrict the rights of private property owners or those in legal control of property (through a lease, rental agreement, contract, or any other agreement) to control access to the property. The law also provides that where a private property owner or other person in legal control of the property is also an employer, the employer's property rights govern. Thus, the law appears to be inapplicable to employers who own or control the parking lots associated with their businesses.
The law's prohibitions also do not apply to employers who provide employees with secure parking that restricts general public access to the parking area, as long as any policy allowing vehicle searches upon entry applies to all vehicles entering the property and is applied on a uniform and frequent basis. Additionally, the law does not apply to an employee who is restricted from carrying or possessing a firearm on the employer's premises as the result of a "completed or pending disciplinary action." The law also provides for other exceptions, including: penal institutions; public utilities; Department of Defense contractors operating facilities contiguous to a military base or within one mile of an airport; parking lots contiguous to facilities providing natural gas transmission, liquid petroleum transmission, water storage and supply, and law enforcement services determined to be vital to public health or safety; areas used for parking on a temporary basis; and areas where the transport of firearms is prohibited by state or federal law or regulation.
The law also provides for exceptions to the prohibition on employer searches, including where: the employer owns or leases the vehicle being searched; the employee consents to the search for loss prevention purposes; a "reasonable person would believe that accessing a locked vehicle of an employee is necessary to prevent immediate threat to human health, life, or safety"; or the search is conducted by certified law enforcement officers pursuant to valid search warrants or valid warrantless searches based upon probable cause under exigent circumstances.
The Louisiana law, "Transportation and Storage of Firearms in Privately Owned Motor Vehicles," gives any person who lawfully possesses a firearm the right to transport and store that firearm in a locked, privately owned motor vehicle in any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated parking area and makes it unlawful for employers and property owners to prohibit anyone from doing so. The law permits employers and property owners to require that any firearms stored in vehicles on their property be hidden from plain view or stored in a locked case or container within the vehicle.
The law does not apply to vehicles owned or leased by an employer and used by an employee in the course of his or her employment. In addition, similar to the Georgia law, the Louisiana law permits employers to prohibit employees from storing firearms in their vehicles in parking areas that have restricted access through the use of gates, fences, signs, or security stations. However, this provision applies only if the employer provides a facility for the temporary storage of unloaded firearms or the employer provides an alternative parking area reasonably close to the main parking area in which employees and other persons may transport or store firearms in locked, privately owned vehicles.
As lobbyists continue to push for the enactment of laws such as the ones discussed here, it is important for employers to review any workplace weapons policies to ensure they meet the applicable state law requirements, which may vary greatly from state to state. If you have any questions regarding the issues discussed in this article, please contact the author, Jessica Walberg, 407-418-2324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.