Earlier this month, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed a law prohibiting employers from firing employees for complying with the state’s “guns-in-trunks” statute. The new law creates another exception to Tennessee’s employment-at-will doctrine, which states that an employer can terminate an employee with or without cause and with or without notice. The law passed despite opposition from some business groups, who argued that the bill’s passage would infringe upon business owners’ private property rights.
‘Guns-in-trunks’ 2.0 ends a two year debate over the scope of the 2013 Tennessee “guns-in-trunks” law. Guns-in-trunks required employers to allow their employees with handgun carry permits to bring their firearms onto company property, so long as the employee kept their gun locked inside their vehicle out of “ordinary observation.” Since the law’s passage in 2013, some members of the state’s legislature contended that the law prohibited employers from firing employees for complying with the law. Tennessee’s then attorney general disagreed, opining that the new law only decriminalized the carrying and storage of firearms under certain circumstances and “has no impact on the employment relationship between an employer and an employee.”
‘Guns-in-trunks’ 2.0 ends that debate. The new law clarifies that an employer, regardless of its size, is prohibited from discharging or taking any adverse employment action against an employee “solely” for complying with the guns-in-trunks statute. The new law only protects employees who possess valid handgun carry permits recognized by the state of Tennessee. If such an employee is discharged or subject to an adverse employment action solely for complying with ‘guns-in-trunks,’ then the employee “shall have a cause of action” to enjoin future acts violating the statute and “to recover economic damages plus reasonable attorney fees and costs,” according to the new statute.
The 2.0 version of ‘guns-in-trunks’ applies to terminations and adverse employment actions occurring on or after July 1, 2015. Besides parking areas, the law does not affect an employer’s right to prohibit firearms in other places on its premises.