Recent changes in state and federal laws have affected an individual’s ability to carry firearms in public and the workplace. These changes should prompt all employers to review their policies on guns in the workplace, with the overall goal of balancing individuals’ gun rights with maintaining a safe workplace.
Federal Gun Laws
Employers have a legal duty to maintain a safe work environment for their workers and protect them from threats of workplace violence. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers can face liability for gun-related fatalities or injuries to employees in the workplace. Employers also are responsible for workers’ compensation claims that stem from injuries related to gun violence in the workplace.
In most instances, employers have the right to prohibit employees from carrying firearms into their workplaces. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not extend to an individual’s right to carry a gun into a private business.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen (2022) that individuals have a constitutional right to carry firearms outside their homes for self-defense. This court ruling directly impacted some states’ licensing requirements for concealed carry permits. A previous Supreme Court decision held that gun restrictions in some locations, such as churches and schools, were not violative of the U.S. Constitution, and Bruen did not change that case’s holding. Likewise, Bruen had no impact on the right of a private employer to prohibit firearms in the workplace.
Federal Legislation on Gun Safety
Congress also passed a gun reform law in 2022, largely in response to the proliferation of school shootings nationwide. This law expands background checks for gun purchasers. It also provides grant funds for states to enact red flag laws, which allow states to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals found to be threats to themselves or others.
The new legislation also closed a loophole in the previous federal law that prohibited people convicted of domestic abuse from buying or owning guns. Previously, this prohibition applied only to abusers who had lived with, had a child with, or were married to the victim of domestic abuse. The legislation expanded the prohibition to include anyone convicted of domestic abuse against someone they had dated. One goal of eliminating this loophole was to reduce the potential for workplace violence by intimate partners of employees.
State Gun Laws
States are revamping their gun laws in response to Bruen and the new federal gun safety legislation. For example, there are states that have specific laws to allow employees to legally keep firearms in locked personal vehicles while on work premises. Other states prevent employers from retaliating against employees who keep guns in their locked personal vehicles at work.
Policies on firearms also may differ according to whether the employer or a third party owns the parking lot. For example, some states require that private businesses post signs prohibiting guns on their premises. As a result, employer policies and laws on gun possession at the workplace can differ widely from one state to the next and even within the same state.