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Establishing Gun-Free Workplaces: What Are Employers' Rights

In an average week in U.S. workplaces, one employee is killed and at least 25 are seriously injured in violent assaults by current or former co-workers, according to Department of Labor data.  Most of those attacks involve guns.  To cut down on the risk of gun violence in workplaces, many employers have instituted policies banning anyone-whether employee or visitor-from carrying a concealed weapon on the property or premises.  However, in some instances such rules may not be enforceable.  

Less than a generation ago, most states issued few permits for individuals to carry concealed guns.  Today, the situation is quite different.  In 34 states there are now laws that require officials to issue a concealed carry permit (CCP) to anyone who meets certain objective licensing criteria.  Most of these laws mandate issuance of a CCP to any adult who has not been convicted of a felony; has no history of drug or alcohol abuse and/or mental illness; has not committed any violent misdemeanor within the last three to five years; and, in most states, has completed a firearms training course. 

The rationale for these laws is that Americans have the right, under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, to bear arms to defend themselves. That right is meaningless, according to CCP supporters, if a person is prevented from having a gun should self-defense be needed.  Many CCP supporters believe this right should extend to workplaces, employers' premises, and private property in general.

While people in most states now have the right to carry concealed guns, employers have a conflicting desire to control activities by employees or the public on the company's private property. 

As of January 2005, employers in all states with CCP laws are permitted to maintain rules or policies that prohibit employees from carrying concealed weapons on the job.

Rules prohibiting guns in the workplace have been upheld by the courts, but there has been controversy whether the rules prohibit possession of guns in the employer's parking lot.  In a highly publicized case several years ago, America Online terminated three employees who were recorded by a security camera transferring guns from their cars which were parked in the company's parking lot at its call center in Ogden, Utah.  The employees were off work and planned to go target shooting.  AOL fired them for violating a violence prevention policy that banned guns.

The fired workers sued, saying AOL's policy violated their right to bear arms.  But the Utah Supreme Court in July 2004 sided with AOL and said employers have the right to set policies banning guns in the workplace and that the right extends to the employer's parking lot.

In some states, there has been pressure on legislatures to make laws allowing employees with CCP's to keep their weapons in their vehicles while they're at work.  

Banning guns on private property carried by non-employees, that is, by visitors, clients, customers, etc., can be quite problematic in states with strong concealed carry laws.  Employers' right to prohibit employees from carrying concealed guns at work is based on the employers' authority to manage the workplace.  But with people who are not employees, the employer can't override the laws, which in most states permit people with CCP's to be armed anywhere, except where concealed guns are specifically excluded by statute. 

Whatever rules one makes about concealed weapons may bring controversy, since there are people who feel strongly on both sides of this issue.

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