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.
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.