Jottings By An Employer's Lawyer

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oklahoma Gun Law Case and the Law of Unintended Consequences


Another chapter in the on-going battle between state legislatures and employers over whether guns can be barred from company parking lots unfolds in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals this morning when the fate of the Oklahoma statute is heard. The case being argued is Ramsey Winch Inc. v. C. Henry, case number 07-5166 For some background check out Who's Packing in the Car?

The district court issued a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the Oklahoma statute holding it was preempted by the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

For those not acquainted with OSHA, the obligations of the employer are set forth in 29 U.S.C. ยง654(a):

a) Each employer

(1) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;

(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this chapter.

Section (1) is known as the general duty clause and (2) the specific duty clause. The latter leads to literally thousands of pages of regulations that specify detailed rules on everything from shoring of ditches to lockout prevention.

The district court held that it was the general duty clause that preempted the Oklahoma gun statute. Although credit has to be given to the creativity of employers' counsel for the argument, my first thought when I heard the grounds for the decision was how such a ruling could increase exposure to OSHA violations for other employers. For some general views on how the general duty clause works in the real world see Workplace Safety is a Shared Responsibility from Chemical Processing.com or Using the General Duty Clause from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health.

Although I would hope the outcome of today's hearing is ultimately upholding the ban on Oklahoma's gun law, I also fear the highlighted use of the general duty clause may well lead down some paths that may not be as good for employers.

It might just emphasize one of the often overlooked aspects of the practice of law, that one of the most important laws of all is the law of unintended consequences.

Hat tip to Employment Law 360 for their story in today's edition, 10th Circ. To Hear Case On Guns At Work ($).


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