As if employers already did not have enough reasons to have to think through termination decisions carefully, here is yet another “trigger” word that should make employers think twice about plans to discipline or fire an employee: guns. Before terminating an employee for bringing one (or more) gun to work, make sure state law does not create rights allowing employees to do bring them to their work location that might allow an employee to sue.
As we have previously reported, states have been enacting laws in recent years that require employers to allow employees to keep a gun locked in the employee’s car on company property. A federal appeals court that covers Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi recently ruled that an employee who was fired after he parked his truck in the company parking lot with his gun locked inside could sue the company for wrongful termination for a public policy violation created by a Mississippi statute containing one of these laws. The company had terminated the employee for violating its policy prohibiting firearms on its property. The company’s human resources manager then held a plant-wide meeting to inform employees that the terminated employee was a security risk and they should call 9-1-1 if he was seen near the plant.
Employers can often feel caught between competing laws in this area. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s “general duty clause” requires employers to take steps to prevent workplace violence, but state laws may give employee rights to bring firearms onto their premises that some may think creates a heightened likelihood of serious violence. Negligent hiring and retention causes of action give victims of violence in the workplace common law claims to make against employers. Management and HR ultimately have to find a seemingly fine line between protecting employees from workplace violence, protecting the company from lawsuits related to any such violence, and complying with state laws vesting individuals with rights that potentially challenge these obligations.
Here are steps employers should take in light of these gun laws and your need to ensure a safe workplace: