Mass shootings have continued to occur with regular frequency in the United States–including shootings in the workplace. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were over 250 mass shootings in the United States in the first half of 2022; a mass shooting is defined by the Congressional Research Service as a shooting with four or more victims.
Should employees be allowed to carry firearms at work, and if so, under what conditions? Are there any legal implications from either permitting or barring firearms? Why should an employer implement a weapons policy in their workplace? The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) requires employers to provide a safe work environment, and OSHA can issue citations to employers who fail to fulfill that general duty. Employees who are injured at work, including gun-related injuries, can be entitled to workers’ compensation. Employers can also be sued directly for negligence if someone is injured due to gun violence. A robust weapons policy can help to protect both employees and employers.
Here are five tips for creating a workplace weapons policy:
ONE: Understand your state’s laws
One difficult factor in creating a workplace weapons policy is that state laws differ in the protections that are required. Thirty-five states have laws that address guns in the workplace in some manner–whether by enabling protections for gun owners or allowing a ban of weapons on the premises.
For example, Idaho’s law establishes that employers cannot be sued for civil damages resulting from the employer’s policy allowing guns to be stored in personal vehicles while employees are at work. The law does not require that employers provide that kind of policy–only that employers who do are not liable for civil damages.
TWO: Consider “parking lot laws”
“Parking lot laws” have come into existence as a result of the clash between the rights of private property owners to prohibit firearms on their property and the constitutional right of individuals to bear arms. As a compromise, 24 states have implemented laws that require guns to be permitted in employer parking lots under specific circumstances, with additional states like Iowa and Michigan working on making their changes.
There are four common requirements in parking lot laws. In order for an employee to be permitted to store their guns during work, the guns must:
- Be stored in a car owned by the employee;
- Be locked inside the vehicle or locked to the vehicle;
- Be legally owned; and
- Not be visible from outside the vehicle.
These are baseline requirements, but there are some exceptions. Some states do not require that the gun be out of sight; some states do not require that the vehicle be owned by the employee. That is not to say that those states expressly permit those things; they just might not be addressed or specifically prohibited.
There are also some states with additional requirements, like that the gun be locked in a separate gun box in the car. Similarly, some statutes indicate that employers are not allowed to inquire about an employee’s gun ownership or make hiring decisions based on a person’s possession of a gun license. For instance, Florida prohibits hiring discrimination that is based on gun ownership or related qualifications.
Employers are allowed to prohibit firearms inside employer-owned vehicles.
THREE: Provide notice of weapons bans
If guns are prohibited in your workplace, consider whether and how you will provide notice to your employees and customers. Some states expressly require that notice be provided if guns are prohibited, and some even have specific rules about how that notice must be given. For instance, Missouri requires that there must be at least one sign posted at the entry to any private property where firearms are prohibited and that the signs must be a minimum size of 11×14 inches with font size no less than one inch.
Requiring this type of notice is meant more to inform customers and other visitors to a private business about gun prohibitions and less to inform employees, but these requirements illustrate the importance of informing everyone, including your workforce, about their permissions on private property. Including a weapons policy in your handbook is a time-tested way to ensure that everyone is notified and on the same page about what they can and cannot do or possess.
FOUR: Address weapons other than firearms
Guns are usually at the top of mind when we think about weapons in the workplace, but other weapons exist and should also be addressed. Because other weapons are not as contentious as firearms, they don’t usually have the same statutory protections, and employers are permitted to exclude them entirely.
FIVE: Consider allowing small tools for self defense
Something else to consider when creating a policy for weapons in the workplace is whether you would like to permit certain kinds of defensive weapons. There are people in some demographics who are disproportionately victimized and who may feel less safe without some small measure of personal protection. Providing exceptions for small defensive tools can help make employees feel safe and cared for. Some items for personal defense may include the following:
- Pepper spray
- Safety whistle
- Stun gun
- Defensive flashlight
- Personal safety alarm
SixFifty’s solutions can help you create a customized, current policy for weapons in the workplace. In addition to a policy specific to weapons, it is always a good idea to have a written zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence, which can also be created using SixFifty’s toolset. We follow employment legislation closely; our policies, contracts, and documents are always up-to-date so yours can be too.
If you have any questions or are ready to get started, schedule a demo today!
Written by Meili Bell
Meili Bell is the Content Manager at SixFifty. She spends her workdays writing, editing, project managing and reading about the intersection of law and technology. Meili comes to SixFifty from Gifted Music School, a nonprofit music school for the most dedicated young musicians in the region, where she was program director of the school’s flagship program for the last ten...
Full Bio and other articles by Meili Bell