Tenn.: Governor Signs Law Prohibiting Employers from Disciplining Employees With Firearms in Vehicles

By William S. Rutchow, © Ogletree Deakins May 19, 2015
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On April 6, 2015, Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a bill prohibiting employers from discharging employees solely because they have a firearm or firearm ammunition stored in their vehicles while parked on the employer’s property.

According to the operative language in the new law, “No employer shall discharge or take any adverse employment action against an employee solely for transporting or storing a firearm or firearm ammunition in an employer parking area.”

Only employees with valid handgun carry permits who comply with firearm storage requirements can take advantage of the new law’s protections. Those requirements include: 1) that the employee have a valid handgun carry permit; 2) that the employee’s vehicle be parked in a location where it is permitted to be; and, 3) that the firearm or ammunition being transported or stored in the motor vehicle be kept from ordinary observation if the employee is in the vehicle or be kept from ordinary observation and locked within the trunk, glove box, or interior of the vehicle (or a container securely affixed to the vehicle), if the employee is not in the motor vehicle.

An employer may still: 1) discipline any employee for possessing a firearm anywhere on the employer’s property outside of the employee’s vehicle; 2) discipline any employee without a valid handgun permit for having a firearm or ammunition anywhere on the employer’s property, including in that employee’s vehicle; 3) ban firearms or ammunition from any company vehicles, including company vehicles operated by a valid permit holder; 4) prohibit nonemployees from possessing firearms or ammunition anywhere on the employer’s property (while it is not a crime for a visitor with a valid handgun permit to store a firearm in his or her vehicle, the new law does not prohibit property owners from banning such individuals from their property).

The new law allows an employee with a valid handgun permit to file a civil action against his or her employer if the employer discharges or takes other adverse employment actions against the employee. The employee must prove that the sole reason for the adverse employment action is because the employee was transporting or storing a firearm in his or her vehicle in the employer’s parking area. Employees may seek economic damages (but not punitive damages), attorneys’ fees, and injunctive relief against future actions in violation of the law. An employee has one year from the date of the adverse employment action to file a lawsuit in state court.

The new law applies to all employers in Tennessee, regardless of size. The new law does include a “safe harbor” against liability for employers according to which, “the presence of a firearm or ammunition within an employer’s parking area in accordance [state law] does not by itself constitute a failure by the employer to provide a safe workplace.

Employees also have a “safe harbor” that allows them to move the firearm to a secure storage place without violating the law in the event that the firearm is observed while it is being stored (for example, while the employee moves the firearm from his or her glove box to a locked trunk).

The new law will take effect on July 1, 2015.

William S. Rutchow is an attorney in the Nashville office of Ogletree Deakins. Republished with permission. © 2015 Ogletree Deakins. All rights reserved.

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