August 4, 2008

Three new state laws limit employer restrictions on guns at work

This summer, risk managers in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana have a new concern to add to their checklist of health, safety and prevention issues: guns at work. These three states have recently enacted legislation that will allow employees to keep guns in locked cars at the work site. These laws not only overrule any existing company policies which forbid guns on company property, they mean that it is now illegal for employers to prohibit employees from keeping loaded guns in their cars during work hours.

The three states are the latest in a series of states that have passed such legislation. Other states with similar laws include Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Nebraska. At least 13 other states have rejected similar laws; Oklahoma passed similar statute, but it was struck down in October 2007 on the grounds that the law conflicts with federal law, specifically, the 1970 Occupational Health and Safety Act. OSHA requires employers to reduce any any workplace risks that could lead to death or serious bodily harm. OSHA also encourages employers to prevent gun-related workplace injuries.

While each law varies in its particulars, there are some restrictions. In most cases, the laws apply to to licensed gun holders, for example, and some types of businesses may be exempt. In Florida, these include aerospace companies, nuclear power plants, hospitals, schools, prisons, and manufacturers that use combustible materials. Most laws offer employers some limited protection from any liability that should occur as the result of the laws, but this would likely not protect an employer from such things as business interruption, loss of business, or qualifying employee workers compensation or disability claims, to name a few matters.

Employer challenges
In Florida and Georgia, several large employers are keeping bans in place. Disney, Universal Studios, a Georgia Pacific paper plant, and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport are maintaining gun prohibitions and facing NRA-financed lawsuits from gun owners. States are struggling to clarify the laws on questions such as which employers should qualify for an exemption and exactly who does and doesn't the law apply to? Right now, employers may not restrict employees from keeping a gun in a locked car, but vendors and visitors may be restricted.

Both sides claim rights. Gun owners claim their right to have guns, although the recent Supreme Court ruling suggested this right is not without some restrictions. Employers claim such laws are a a violation of the private property rights provided by the Constitution and an imposition on their violence prevention measures, which they must take to be in compliance with OSHA. Employers cite the five fatalities at an Atlantis Plastics in Henderson, Kentucky as an example of what could go wrong. In that case, a disgruntled worker retrieved a .45 caliber pistol from his car shortly after being escorted out of the workplace, returning to shoot his supervisor and four co-workers. This type of incident is unfortunately not rare. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals 787 weapon "assaults and other violent acts" in workplaces in 2006. There were 439 workplace homicides by gunfire.

The recent spate of legislation is hardly the last we will hear on the matter of guns at work. Buoyed by the recent Supreme Court decision which struck down the 1976 Washington D.C. handgun ban, the NRA is stepping up its challenges to existing state gun control laws. If this issue hasn't surfaced in your state yet, rest assured, it will.

Prior posts on this topic
Guns at work - coming to a neighborhood near you?
Workers with guns
Guns at work



Speaking solely for myself, I don't personally agree with the new laws - particularly when they allow loaded guns.

But with that said, I feel an analytic responsibility to clarify one of the comments that you made regarding workplace homicides... After mentioning the Kentucky incident, you note:
"This type of incident is unfortunately not rare. The Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals 787 weapon 'assaults and other violent acts' in workplaces in 2006. There were 439 workplace homicides by gunfire."

First of all, where did the 787 assaults number come from? I'm looking at the 2006 CFOI data and only see just over 500. (Minor to my overall point, but I felt the need to point it out...)

In any case, not all of those homicides were the result of co-worker violence. I, unfortunately, do not have the exact numbers available, but in my experience with CFOI, the vast majority were not due to co-worker violence. Most were related to robberies or other criminal acts. Some were related to domestic squabbles. In all the time I've been working with CFOI data, I've seen one incident involving a co-worker, and he was in the middle of robbing the establishment when he murdered the decendent. The point is, despite the fact that they are the most highly publicized cases, there is not currently a large amount of worker-on-worker violence out there.

Now that I've said that, I wonder what effect these new laws will have...

Personal Opinion - I support owning guns. I support licensing.
I also support property rights. Workplaces are real property. As an owner, I can tell people to leave. I see these new laws interfering with property owners rights. A car is not real property. If I, as the property owner, state that no guns are allowed on my property, then it is incumbent on the gun owner to decide to enter my property without his gun or not to enter.
My opinion.


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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on August 4, 2008 3:26 PM.

A Cautionary Tale on Hiring: Finish the Interview! was the previous entry in this blog.

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