Last week, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley signed into law an Act limiting an Alabama employer's right to prohibit guns and ammunition in the workplace. Although the law does not necessarily allow employees to carry firearms at work, it does allow employees to store, and have access to, firearms kept in privately owned vehicles that are parked in employer-provided parking areas. Considering that thousands of Alabama residents hold concealed weapons permits, this law is likely to have a significant impact on the workplace. Senate Bill 286, commonly referred to as the "Guns in the Parking Lot Act," is effective August 1, 2013.
Scope of the law
The law prohibits public and private employers from enacting and enforcing policies that prevent employees from transporting or storing firearms in their locked, private vehicles while parked on or in an employer-provided parking area. However, the law does not prevent employers from prohibiting the possession of concealed handguns on company property. Rather, the restrictions are limited to employers' treatment of employee parking lots. It is important to note that the law applies to all lawfully-owned firearms, not just those owned under concealed weapons permits.
With Alabama, a total of 19 states have enacted "guns-at-work" or "parking lot" laws, including Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.
Section 4 of the Alabama law describes the firearms that employees may possess in their locked vehicles parked in their employers' parking lots. It also restricts an employer from prohibiting an employee from having a firearm which is out of sight and in his or her locked vehicle if the employee has met certain eligibility criteria as follows:
- If the employee has a concealed weapon permit the employee is permitted to have a pistol or long gun (shotgun or rifle) in his or her car.
- If the employee does not have a concealed weapons permit the employee may, during hunting season and if he or she has an Alabama hunting license, have an unloaded rifle or shotgun legal for hunting (and not a pistol) out of sight in the locked vehicle.
If the employee does not have a concealed weapons permit, the employer can prohibit the employee from having a firearm in his or her vehicle for any of these reasons:
- The employee does not have a valid Alabama hunting license;
- The employee has been convicted of a crime of violence;
- The employee has been convicted of a crime involving domestic violence;
- The employee is subject to a domestic violence restraining order;
- The employee has previously been committed to a psychiatric hospital; or
- The employee has prior documented incidents of workplace threats or violence.
The Act includes a long list of public places, including most government buildings, courthouses, schools, city council chambers, and county commission meeting places, where citizens and employees may not carry concealed weapons. Schools are asking the Alabama Attorney General to clarify the law.
The employer is not allowed to ask the employee whether he or she is eligible to keep firearms in the locked vehicles unless the employee gives notice that he or she possesses a gun in the locked vehicle, or if the gun is in plain view. If the employee is not in compliance, the employer may take disciplinary action. An employer may not take any adverse employment action against the employee solely based on the presence of a lawful firearm in the employee's vehicle when the eligibility criteria are met. Otherwise, the employer is subject to being sued in an Alabama court, after a 45-day demand period, for lost wages and remuneration, lost benefits, and (if applicable) demotion caused by the adverse action. Additionally, the employer may be enjoined from violating the Act, and attorneys' fees are recoverable by the prevailing party.
Shield from liability
Section 5 of the Act provides that the employer may not be held liable for damages that flow from use of a firearm that is stored according to the provisions of the law.
Common sense counsel
As of August 1, 2013, employees in Alabama can begin taking their guns to work, or at least to the parking lot, without facing the risk of being terminated for doing so. An employer cannot even ask about guns in the vehicle. This Act is a classic example of the best compliance policy is "don't ask – don't tell." All Alabama employers are encouraged to promptly review and revise any workplace violence prevention policies relating to the possession of firearms on company property to ensure compliance with the new law. A reading of the entire new Act is highly recommended as its provisions are more far- reaching than just the workplace. Employers should also consider updating their harassment policies to include prohibitions on bullying; otherwise, the victims may decide that a gun in the pick-up is the great equalizer. Training is a critical element of any violence prevention program as every employer has a general duty to provide a safe workplace.