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How to Respond to Employees Who Want to Bring Guns to Work

Employers can have policies banning guns in the workplace but must be aware of state law limitations

In the wake of recent mass shootings in workplaces and at entertainment venues—like the tragic events in Las Vegas—employees may want to bring guns to work to protect themselves and their customers.

Employers may choose to permit guns at their worksite, in compliance with applicable state and local laws. For employers that choose not to allow guns at work, here are some tips. 

Recognize Employees’ Concerns

It is understandable that employees want to protect themselves from potential workplace dangers, said Terry Dawson, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Indianapolis. This is particularly true for employees who work in busy hospitality sites that are open to the public, such as casinos, nightclubs and concert venues.

"Employers can certainly express empathy with these concerns but can also communicate that they believe ready access to guns can pose additional safety risks," Dawson said.

Many companies that provide public access, such as casinos and concert venues, also have trained security staff and take other safety measures. If the employer believes that banning guns from inside a facility is a best practice, then it can explain its position and the steps it takes to provide a safe place for employees and visitors, Dawson said. Employees can then choose whether they want to continue working for the employer under those conditions.

"Recognizing an employee's concern for safety is the first step," said Carin Burford, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Birmingham, Ala. "Hearing their concerns, while at the same time explaining company policy and procedures for workplace safety, is the key."

Guns-in-Trunks Laws

Though employers can ban guns in the workplace, they need to be aware of state laws that give employees the right to store a firearm in a locked personal vehicle in the company's parking lot. About half of U.S. states have such laws. The statutory details vary significantly from state to state, but they generally require the firearm to be:

  • Lawfully possessed by the employee.
  • Concealed from view.
  • Locked in a personal vehicle (e.g., in the trunk or glovebox of an employee's car).

Many state statutes require employers to allow employees to store firearms only in their own personal vehicles—but employers don't have to allow workers to store weapons in company-owned vehicles. In those states, employers should consider whether to have a policy prohibiting weapons in company vehicles, Burford said. 

"Additionally, if employers are considering restricting weapons onsite, they should consult local and state law before doing so, because many jurisdictions require specific signage before prohibiting weapons," she added.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Understanding Workplace Violence Prevention and Response]

Workplace Violence Policies

​Any gun policy should be part of a broader workplace violence policy that sets forth the company's approach on weapons and violent or threatening behavior, Dawson said.

Burford recommends that employers take a threefold approach by developing policies and practices that address:

  • Workplace violence prevention. Cover acts of violence regardless of whether they result in physical injury or property damage—including harassment, bullying, intimidation and horseplay. 
  • Weapons in the workplace. Explicitly state the parameters of what, if any, weapons are allowed or prohibited at the employer's location. Since state and local laws vary greatly, multistate employers should have language in their policies that allows for nuance. One example would be to include the statement "to the extent allowed by state and local law."
  • Emergency procedures. Update emergency procedures for natural disasters to include procedures for dealing with violence in the workplace. Consult with local law enforcement personnel. Go over the emergency plan periodically at safety meetings and general workplace gatherings.

Each of these policies should clearly spell out how employees should report threats, violent acts and concerns. "Consider whether reporting to human resources, risk management, safety and/or security is appropriate, and incorporate this structure into those policies," Burford said.

These policies should also establish a disciplinary procedure for employees who violate company rules. "At the same time, the policies should contain some flexibility with respect to measures that may be taken depending on the severity of the report and action," she said.

Employers should also include access to resources such as counseling and the company's employee assistance program, if it has one.

"As with most human resources issues, listening and responding to employees' concerns can go a long way toward understanding and consensus building," Burford said. "Explaining the need for the company policy and rationale behind it is essential."


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