Gun-related violence headlines the news every day, and workplace shootings are, unfortunately, a reality of the times we live in. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, an average of 551 workers per year were killed as a result of work-related homicides, and of that number, approximately 78% of workplace homicides were committed with a firearm. [Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Workplace Homicides from Shootings, analyzing data from 2006 to 2010, at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/osar0016.htm (last visited Oct 11, 2016)]. And, those numbers do not account for additional workplace shootings that result in non-fatal injuries. Although such tragic incidents account for only 11% of all fatal work injuries, the threat of gun violence is an area that all employers must be prepared to address in their risk management.
Of course, all employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment. To that end, many private employers adopt policies that ban all weapons at work, and both Kentucky and Ohio allow private employers to prohibit employees and invitees from carrying weapons onto their work premises, including lawfully possessed concealed firearms. But many states, including Kentucky, have “Parking Lot Statutes” that allow employees to legally keep firearms in their parked cars even when firearms are banned at the workplace by an employer.
Kentucky Revised Statute 237.106(1) provides that an employer cannot prohibit an employee from keeping a firearm in a vehicle on company property unless the employee is prohibited from carrying a firearm by federal or state law; however, that firearm can only be removed from the vehicle in an act of self-defense of others or property or with the employer’s authorization. An employer who violates these rights is liable in civil damages.
Ohio does not currently afford such protection for its concealed handgun licensees and will allow an employer to prohibit weapons, even in privately-owned employee vehicles while in their company parking lots. However, a bill has been introduced in the Ohio legislature that would prohibit any employer from discriminating against an employee for storing a firearm in his or her locked vehicle in the employee parking lot.
So, what is an employer to do to both keep its employees safe and to insulate itself from liability? Employers should have policies in place to prohibit workplace violence of all kinds—including not only violence that results in physical injury, but also harassment, bullying, and intimidation. And, employers must consider whether they want to ban all weapons to the extent available under the law, or whether they want to take other actions to provide a safe workplace without such a ban. For instance, in Kentucky, even with its protections to allow employees to maintain weapons in their personal vehicles on work premises, courts have upheld additional employer administrative requirements, like requiring disclosure of any weapons maintained in a privately-owned vehicle on the employer’s property. Or, if an employer chooses to allow handguns or other weapons on its property, other safeguards can be implemented—like requiring a copy of the permit to carry to be kept on file and storage of any firearms in a locked safe while on the premises.
Whatever they choose, private employers must know the laws of the state in which they are operating—laws which are rapidly changing and developing. That means if an employer operates in multiple states, its policies must be tailored specifically for each state’s unique laws, and it must keep abreast of the updates in the law. Then, equally important as determining the rules of the workplace in relation to firearms or other weapons is communicating and uniformly implementing those rules to all employees.
If you have questions about your company’s policies with regard to firearms and other weapons in the workplace, please contact any of the following attorneys at Mazanec, Raskin & Ryder Co., L.P.A.: