Business Law

Susan Park: Think carefully about allowing guns in the workplace

Assistant professor of business law at Boise State's College of Business and EconomicsMarch 19, 2014 

The recent controversy surrounding the legislative proposal to allow concealed guns on public university campuses raises a related issue about guns in the workplace. Several students have asked recently whether businesses can prohibit customers or employees from bringing weapons onto their property.

The answer, generally, is yes.

Our constitutional rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms, protect us from governmental intrusion into those areas. Private individuals and businesses are not so restricted. Many private businesses, such as Costco and Toys R Us, prohibit employees and customers from bringing guns onto the property.

However, at least 22 states have passed "Bring Your Gun to Work" laws that limit the rights of property owners, including businesses, regarding guns. The laws vary from state to state, but in general they allow property owners to ban firearms inside buildings and other work areas but not in vehicles parked on the premises. Arguably, these laws expand one right, the right to bear arms, at the expense of another, a private property owner's right to control the property.

Idaho has not passed such a law. However, in 2009 the Legislature enacted a statute that favors employers who affirmatively allow employees to store guns in their vehicles by granting them immunity from liability for doing so.

A large number of people were opposed to the concealed-weapons bill that Gov. Butch Otter has now signed into law, including university presidents, police chiefs, students and many of my colleagues who will be directly affected by this legislation. They share the same valid, fundamental concerns that many private employers have about guns in the workplace.

Indeed, workplace violence is a topic of national importance. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, more than two million American workers report being the victim of workplace violence. Homicide is the leading cause of death of women in the workplace. Given that businesses have an affirmative responsibility to provide a safe workplace, statistics such as these should be taken seriously.

What can your business do to reduce the risk of violence in the workplace? A written and enforced Workplace Violence Prevention Policy is an excellent first step. OSHA offers free, confidential consultations to help small businesses identify and correct workplace hazards that increase risk to employees. Proper training and supervision of supervisors is also critical and may help to limit liability in the unfortunate event of workplace violence.

Finally, should your business ban guns at work? Granted, our answer to this complex question will be influenced by our political philosophy regarding the Second Amendment and property rights. In my opinion, and that of many of my colleagues who teach at Boise State, guns have no place in the workplace or on college campuses.

Although I believe strongly in our fundamental rights, no right is without limitation. In this instance, the safety of the many should outweigh an individual's right to bear arms while at work. Or in my classroom.

Before implementing any workplace policy that affects employee safety and well-being, consultation with an employment law specialist is highly advised.

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