Legal Alert: State Weapons Laws May Impact Workplace Violence Policies

Date   Dec 5, 2005
In an effort to prevent workplace violence, many employers have banned guns and other weapons from the workplace.

In an effort to prevent workplace violence, many employers have banned guns and other weapons from the workplace. However, some states' concealed weapons laws may make it more difficult for employers to ban guns from their parking lots.

Proposed Florida Legislation - The Florida legislature is currently considering a bill that would make it a third degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, for an employer to establish a policy prohibiting employees from having firearms in the employer's parking lot, if the employee is a person who may lawfully own a firearm and is "lawfully transporting and storing a firearm or firearms in the motor vehicle and the firearm or firearms are locked in or locked to the motor vehicle." Fla. SB 206; HB 129. The bill also authorizes civil actions by employees who are discharged for violating such a policy and protects employers from civil liability for any "occurrence" that results from the use of a firearm that is lawfully transported and stored in a locked motor vehicle in the employer's parking lot, unless the employer commits a criminal act involving the use of the firearm. The bill has 10 sponsors and is expected to be decided in the next legislative session, which begins in March 2006.

Kentucky - Kentucky's concealed weapons law (Ken. Rev. Stat. 237.110(14)) precludes employers from prohibiting employees who have a valid license or permit to carry concealed weapons from having weapons in the employees' own vehicle in the employer's parking lot. The Kentucky attorney general has issued an opinion stating that the statute means that employers cannot prohibit employees or other persons holding a concealed deadly weapons license from carrying concealed deadly weapons in vehicle owned by the employee and used on company business or located on company premises. 1998 Ky. Atty. Gen. 2-34.

Oklahoma - Oklahoma's law has been the source of a great deal of controversy. The law, which was enacted following the discharge of twelve Weyerhaeuser employees for leaving firearms locked in vehicles in the company's parking lot, prohibits employers from establishing any policy that has the effect of prohibiting any person, except a convicted felon, from transporting and storing firearms in a locked vehicle in the employer's parking lot (21 Okl. Stat. Ann. § 1289.7a; 1290.22(b)).

Several Oklahoma employers, including ConocoPhillips, have challenged the law in court, claiming it violates their rights as property owners. In response to the lawsuit, the National Rifle Association (NRA) urged its members to boycott ConocoPhillips. See Kris Axtman and Mark Clayton, Worker Right or Workplace Danger?

The federal court issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the law pending the resolution of the employers' challenges. In March 2005, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals held that the law is a criminal statute. Because of this ruling, the case will likely proceed in federal court rather than be remanded to state court.

The law has been revised to protect employers from liability for occurrences resulting from the storage of firearms in a locked vehicle on the employer's property unless the employer commits a criminal act involving the use of firearms. The revisions to the law also permit individuals to bring civil actions to enforce the terms of the statute and provide for actual damages, an injunction of further violations of the law, and court costs and attorney fees for a prevailing plaintiff. The NRA views the revised legislation as "extremely important." The NRA's Executive Vice President has stated that the group "will be carrying this fight to other states to assure that the protections guaranteed to Oklahoma gun owners . . . will apply everywhere." See Wayne LaPierre, Standing Guard, American Rifleman, August 2005.

Minnesota - Minnesota's law provides, in part, that "an employer may not prohibit the lawful carry or possession of firearms in a parking facility or parking area." Minn. Stat. Ann. § 624.714(18)(c). A Minnesota court found a prior version of the law to be unconstitutional because of the way in which it was enacted. See Unity Church of St. Paul v. State, 694 N.W. 2d 585 (Minn. App. 2005). The law was subsequently re-enacted to be effective retroactively and without interruption from April 28, 2003. See Minn. Laws 2005, ch. 83 § 1.

Other Proposed Legislation - Following a Utah Supreme Court decision upholding an employer's right to discharge an employee for bringing weapons into the workplace, Hansen v. America Online, Inc., 96 P.3d 950 (Utah 2004), legislation has been proposed in Utah that would challenge employers' abilities to ban guns in employer parking lots; however, no such legislation has been passed. Similar legislation has been proposed in Texas, but has not been passed.

Employers' Bottom Line:

Although only a few states currently have laws in effect that prohibit employers from banning weapons in their parking facilities, employers should be aware that other states may consider such legislation in the future. It is important to be aware of the laws of all of the states in which you have employees to ensure that your workplace policies do not violate state law. Some employers may need to develop creative solutions to address workplace violence, at least in those states that prohibit employers from banning firearms in their parking facilities. If you have questions regarding the establishment or revision of workplace violence policies or other employment-related issues, please contact the Ford & Harrison attorney with whom you usually work.