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What Employers Can and Can't Do About Guns in the Workplace

By Catherine Gordon, JD | September 03, 2013

Workplace violence is a concern for employers of all sizes. Therefore, there’s no time like the present for business owners to consider the issue of weapons and violence in the workplace, and review or formulate appropriate workplace policies.

Weapons and the Workplace Laws

State laws generally govern the ownership and carrying of guns, as well as other weapons-related issues. These laws directly or indirectly address employer and employee rights regarding weapons in the workplace. As an employer, you should determine if your business is in a state that has enacted laws that specifically apply to the workplace. The main focus of these laws is the carrying of concealed weapons and whether there is a duty to retreat from deadly force.

Tip

Be aware that local laws may also come into play regarding the ownership, carrying and use of guns in the workplace.

Restricting concealed weapons. The laws that cover possession of concealed weapons generally specify what employers can do regarding restricting guns in their place of business. Most of the states that have laws that apply to employers allow you to prohibit the possession of certain weapons on your private property, if there is a notice posted or if consent is obtained. A common exception to this rule is for weapons locked in vehicles, even if the vehicles are on company-owned property.

No duty to retreat self-defense laws. Some states have laws addressing whether or not a person has a duty to retreat from deadly force. The law in your state may be that an individual can use reasonable force, which may include deadly force, to protect his or her own or another's life, and there is no duty to retreat to avoid doing so.

The no duty to retreat rule can also extend to the workplace. The principle applies if the law states that there is no duty to retreat if the self-defense occurs in any place where the person has the right to be. While these state laws include the workplace by inference, other states have laws specifically providing that the rule applies to a person in the workplace.

Tip

This is a controversial and developing area of law, subject to changes that may potentially affect what you can and can’t do regarding guns in your workplace. You should keep abreast of the gun laws that are specifically employment-related as well as rules that can impact the workplace due to the broadness of their scope.

Using Work Rules to Prevent Gun Violence in the Workplace

Employers of even a few employees should institute general workplace policies that can help to ensure a safe environment for all concerned. Depending on the latitude allowed by the laws in your state, you may find it prudent to have workplace rules specifically relating to weapons.

Example

For example, if the law permits, your work rules could include the following statement: “The possession of all weapons, either inside the workplace or transported in an employee's vehicle on company property is prohibited.”

If you choose to have rules regarding guns in the workplace, make sure that the rules and any disciplinary procedures are effectively communicated to your employees.

Recognizing potentially violent employees. What can you do to create a safer workplace if your state’s law limits your control of weapons’ possession and use? Know the signs of a troubled employee. If you can recognize behavior that is a precursor to violence, you may be able to take proactive steps to prevent an incident from occurring.

And if, despite your best efforts, a violent incident does take place, educate yourself and other supervisors in practicing safe conflict resolution. This training will assist you in determining whether you should intervene and when to call the police.

The bottom line is that weapons in the workplace are no longer an anomaly. Know your rights as an employer, and use workplace policies and education to exert what control you can to create a safe work environment for all.

Office & HR

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