TAKING AIM AT AN EMPLOYEE FIREARMS POLICY

The recent tragedy at a northern Idaho Wal-Mart, where a two-year-old accidentally shot his mother with a handgun he found in her purse, raised another media alarm about concealed carry and workplace shootings.  While the victim at Wal-Mart was a customer, businesses may also be concerned about their employee policies and whether to regulate or prohibit employees’ carrying firearms on the business property. 

This concern is justified for many reasons.  First, and because of their general duty to provide a safe workplace, employers can be held civilly liable for their employees’ conduct, if an employee or client were injured with a firearm that an employee carried on the premises.  Approximately seven percent of Idahoans have concealed carry licenses, and whether firearms are carried openly or concealed, so-called “negligent discharge” is always a risk, as demonstrated recently when an Idaho State University instructor’s handgun fired into his foot during class. 

Although Idaho public policy favors the exercise of gun rights, Idaho law provides only narrow liability protection for employers.  Under Idaho Code Section 5-341, employers have immunity from civil damages if the lawsuit arises out of the employer’s policy to allow or not prohibit employees from storing firearms in their vehicles on the employer’s premises.  The boundaries of the immunity have yet to be tested in court, and in any event, it would not apply to any policy or lack of policy regarding carrying firearms beyond employees’ personal vehicles.  Additionally, an employee injured by a firearm at work could be entitled to receive workers compensation benefits. 

While there is no such thing as a completely safe workplace, especially where firearms are concerned, a firearms policy can be an effective risk management tool, and is worthy of every employer’s consideration.  Idaho has no law interfering with an employer’s right to restrict or ban employees from bringing weapons onto the premises.  Policies could be as simple as requiring employees to notify their supervisor that the employee holds a concealed carry permit and intends to carry the weapon in the course of employment.  Employers may also require that weapons be kept in the employee’s physical possession at all times.  Also, any firearms policy should require an employee whose concealed carry permit is suspended to immediately notify their supervisor. 

INSIGHTS FOR EMPLOYERS

  • Employers can manage risk as well as liability by implementing a written firearms policy tailored to the employer’s needs.
  • Employees should be instructed not to interpret firearms policies as a directive or authorization to carry or use a weapon in any particular manner in the scope of employment.
  • As with any other employment policy, there should be clearly defined enforcement mechanisms and penalties for violation of the policy.
  • Existing policies regarding firearms or concealed carry in the workplace should be revisited, and employers would benefit from reviewing those policies with counsel to plan goals and understand legal issues that may arise.

     

  • Please contact a Gjording Fouser lawyer at 208.336.9777 if you would like any additional information about this topic or any other employment issues facing your company.