Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Guns vs. Business on the NYT Editorial Page — and the Texas Version

Not often that employment issues get space on the New York Times editorial page, but last week it weighed in on the battle between business and the gun lobby over employers' rights to ban guns from the workplace that is being fought in legislatures across the country.

I am not a hunter, nor a student of the 2nd amendment, but I do know a bit about workplaces, and let me tell you this is an important issue for employers and its crazy to think employers shouldn't have the right to ban handguns. The NYT agrees, Workers’ Safety and the Gun Lobby.

If safety is the issue, which of course it is, the NYT points to this:

There is no debate that doing so [allowing guns at the workplace] endangers workers. Workplaces that tolerate guns are five to seven times more likely to suffer homicides than job sites that ban firearms, according to a 2005 study in The American Journal of Public Health. The notion that self-defense mandates keeping guns in office drawers or out in parking-lot glove compartments is a dangerous fantasy.

The debate is happening just up the street from me as the Texas legislature is in session and has several bills before it. One bill, HB 220, has already passed out of committee. It would prohibit employers from banning guns in parking lots unless two conditions are met:
(1) the parking lot, garage, or other area is completely surrounded by a gate and is not open to the public; and (2) ingress to and egress from the parking lot, garage, or other area are monitored by security personnel.
These kinds of exceptions, which are not practicable, are cover for legislators who can use the "exception" to show that they were "reasonable." Garbage.

Even worse, SB 534 has already passed the Senate, and like its counterpart HB 992 (also passed out of committee), provides a cause of action for anyone discharged for having a gun on an employer's parking lot that has complied with a convoluted scheme involving the employee providing his supervisor a written statement that he has a gun, along with copies of the gun license and allowing the employer to provide an alternative place for storage. I can just see it now, instead of a hat check closet, employer's will now have a gun check closet.

I am not terribly optimistic that these bills won't make it through the legislature. If you are concerned, you better speak up soon.

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Wow, that’s pretty interesting. This statute could create a whole new dynamic in the workplace. If an employer fires a gun-toting employee, and that employee successfully sues for reinstatement, then that employer could be faced with an uncomfortable situation. Not only will the employee be coming back to work against the employer’s wishes (leaving a somewhat sour taste in the boss’s mouth). Now the employer can rest comfortably, knowing that this disgruntled employee has a dangerous weapon nearby!

I write this (mostly) in jest, but there are important issues that could plague an employer because of these bills. The NYT article mentions liability, and hand in hand with this consideration, insurance premiums could conceivably rise because of the possibility of gun-related injuries. Many small businesses already battle to keep premiums low for their employees. For example, one small KS company recently installed a gym on its premises and created a health awareness committee to lower employee premiums. I cannot imagine that their health insurance provider would dance for joy upon learning of a similar bill in KS. In addition, as you stated, the “convoluted scheme” required by the bill will just add another paperwork requirement for employers and make their job that much more confusing.

These bills do not leave a practicable way out for employers. While an employer could perhaps construct a gate around its parking lot without incurring undue expense, many businesses would be precluded from doing so for at least two reasons: 1) a city law probably disallows this in some areas, and 2) it would be aesthetically damaging and thereby decrease business. As for the second prong of the exception, most businesses simply cannot afford to hire security for this purpose. And these expenses would be imposed merely because employees choose not to leave their firearms at home when going to work…

Being a KS resident, I doubt that the TX legislature would care much about my opinion in the matter. However, concealed carry of firearms has just recently been passed in KS, so perhaps, in a couple of years, I will have my chance to write that letter.
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