In what has become an all-too-familiar headline, an individual who had recently been terminated from his job is responsible for the deaths of seven innocent victims and injury to over a dozen more. Over Labor Day weekend in a small West Texas town, a lone driver was pulled over for making a turn without using a signal, a small infraction on an otherwise clean driving record.
His response was to point a shotgun at the police car behind him and fire. He then left the scene and embarked on a shooting rampage through two communities.
Devastating incidents such as this one, which came just several weeks after mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, are a good reminder for employers to be mindful of mental health awareness. And some employers may decide to review and implement policies that restrict or prohibit firearms in the workplace.
No matter where an employer stands on these complex and often-controversial matters, it is important to be aware of relevant legal restrictions that may apply to a workplace weapons policy. For example, on the same day as these West Texas shootings, the state of Texas began implementing more relaxed gun laws, including allowing individuals to carry concealed weapons to church and school.1 While the new Texas laws do not generally focus on employment, they provide a poignant wakeup call for employers to look closely at local and state laws allowing for weapons in the workplace and parking areas.
Over 20 states, including Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Alabama and Florida, allow concealed handguns in the workplace to various extents. Employers are not forced to allow employees to carry guns in the office, however. Instead, most laws provide employers a method for notifying employees that guns are not allowed on premises, either through signage at company entrances, posters or in company policies. Although an employer may restrict guns in the workplace, many states with concealed handgun laws allow employees to maintain guns in locked vehicles on company property as long as they are concealed from view and lawfully possessed by the owner.
In Texas, employers must provide notice of firearm prohibitions in accordance with the Texas Penal Code, as follows:
How should employers respond to employees that believe they need guns at work? First, listen to the employee’s concerns and assure the employee that safety mechanisms are in place for their protection. Secondly, review and update the company’s workplace violence policy so that employees feel secure against violence in the workplace.
The debate over gun possession in the workplace will continue, but employers can, and should, maintain specific guidelines on firearm possession in the workplace and provide up-to-date resources to help employees concerned with safety in the workplace.
1 New Texas gun laws, effective September 1, 2019: (1) Weapons on school grounds House Bill 1143 says a school district cannot prohibit a licensed gun owner, including school employees, from storing a firearm or ammunition in a locked vehicle on a school parking lot; (2) Defense for offense of trespass House Bill 121 provides a defense for License to Carry Holders who unknowingly enter establishments that prohibit guns with signage if the holder promptly leaves after being asked; (3) Weapons in apartments House Bill 302 bans homeowners or landlords of rental property from prohibiting residents from lawfully possessing, carrying, transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition on the property; and (4)Weapons in places of worship Senate Bill 535 allows licensed handgun owners to legally carry their weapons in places of worship.