This is a question I find myself answering more regularly in light of the daily barrage of stories regarding gun deaths and injuries around the country. Regardless of specific beliefs on this sensitive topic, employers must evaluate their position with regard to firearms soberly and comprehensively, while prioritizing safety, risk management, and basic constitutional concerns.
In many states, North Carolina included, gun owners are able to legally carry a concealed firearm by obtaining a concealed carry permit. This right is not without restriction, however. For example, a person cannot take a concealed weapon into a courthouse, school, or any place of business that has posted a sign banning concealed weapons on its premises, just to name a few.
Often, workplaces fit into the “place of business” exception in that an employer can choose not to allow firearms on site. Within the realm of applicable law, this decision of whether to allow firearms on site is primarily up to the employer. There are plenty of considerations, however, when making this decision.
Legal Concerns with Concealed Carry
The most applicable federal law to this question is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Generally speaking, OSHA requires employers to reduce the risk of harm to their employees. So, if an employer allows concealed carry, and someone accidentally discharges a firearm and injures or kills a coworker, for example, the employer could be liable for multiple fines and penalties under OSHA. From a civil liability standpoint, the employer could be sued in tort or under workers’ compensation laws by an injured employee, third party, or an injured person’s family. An employer could conceivably even be faced with criminal implications should something go awry.
Constitutional Concerns of Concealed Carry
Employers should be respectful of their employees’ opinions, and to their general constitutional rights. However, the right to bear arms is not usually protected in the private sector. While many states have laws which protect employees who leave firearms in locked cars in a workplace parking lot, North Carolina does not have such a law.
Risk Management Considerations of Concealed Carry
There are multiple other risk management and safety considerations that could affect the health of the company and its employees. Insurance rates, for example, could rise, or the policies cancelled if insurers deem the workplace too risky. It is always a good idea to check with the insurance provider if the company chooses to allow concealed in the workplace. In addition, it is recommended that the company check to see if its commercial lease and/or landlord directives have provisions related to firearms.
The security of employees, customers, and others who may enter the workplace, as well as law enforcement and other first responders, should also be considered. For example, in the event of an actual shooting incident, an armed employee could be mistaken for the suspect, compounding the possible liability and multiplying harm. It also goes without saying that a person charged with securing the safety of a workplace should be properly trained. Simply having a concealed carry permit is insufficient for an employer to show that the person knows how to safely secure a facility and/or protect others.
Finally, an employer needs to weigh this decision based on the knowledge that workplace violence is an everyday occurrence in this country. Will allowing concealed carry help to deter incidents or trigger or exacerbate them? Will it make our employees feel more or less safe?
The answer for many is that having firearms in the workplace is too fraught with risk, whereas employers in specific industries may find that allowing concealed carry for certain employees provides a safer environment. When the decision is made to allow concealed carry in the workplace, the employer should be provided with the employee’s concealed carry permit, proof of legal authorization to possess a specific firearm, updated background checks, and an acknowledgment and release from the employee outlining the employer’s policies and expectations and outlining indemnity and release obligations.
At the Forrest Firm, we provide counsel to employers with regard to creating safe, secure workplaces while maintaining policies that decrease risks and limit liability. Contact me at the firm with any questions and we will help you create a plan of action for your workplace.