With hunting season right around the corner, Louisiana employers have new incentive to revisit their workplace conduct policies. In July, Louisiana joined a handful of states that have enacted laws allowing employees to keep guns in their cars while at work, even if parked on the employer’s property. While the Louisiana law permits an employer to place certain limited restrictions on the transportation and storage of an otherwise lawfully possessed firearm on its premises, most employers may no longer have a blanket prohibition on the possession of firearms. This new law, which becomes effective on August 15, 2008, places a number of important values in conflict: an individual’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, the employer’s right to regulate use of its own property, and employers’ and employees’ concerns about workplace violence.
The Law Explained.
The Louisiana law, commonly referred to as the “Guns At Work” law, provides that any person who lawfully possesses a firearm may transport or store the firearm in a locked, privately-owned motor vehicle in any parking lot, parking garage, or other designated parking area. The law further provides that no property owner, tenant, or public or private employer shall prohibit a person from transporting or storing a firearm in this manner, although an employer may require that firearms stored in locked vehicles on employer-controlled property be hidden from plain view or within a locked case or container within the vehicle. Nothing in the statute restricts the employer’s continued right to prohibit employees from carrying firearms into the actual workplace.
Not surprisingly, there are a number of statutory exceptions. The law does not apply to any parking area where the possession of firearms is otherwise prohibited under state or federal law, or to vehicles owned or leased by the employer and used by employees in the course of their employment. Moreover, if the vehicles are parked on employer-controlled property where access is limited (such as use of a fence, gate, or signage), the employer may prohibit the transportation or storage of firearms on such property if it either provides other facilities for the temporary storage of unloaded firearms or an alternative parking area reasonably close to the main parking area where such firearms may be stored in vehicles.
The Competing Interests.
There is no question that lawful possession of a gun is an important fundamental right, especially in the Sportsman’s Paradise. Indeed, many argue that by allowing guns to be kept in parked cars, the law will not only prevent an innocent employee from being fired for inadvertently leaving a gun in the car (which in fact was the primary motivation for the bill) but will also help deter crime in the parking lots. However, several Louisiana employer organizations vehemently opposed this legislation arguing that any benefit is offset by the invariable risk that guns in the parking lot will lead to an unlawful or accidental shooting. The legislature addressed these concerns by providing immunity for property owners and employers against civil actions for damages resulting from an occurrence involving a firearm transported or stored pursuant to the statute. Of course, this immunity does nothing to alleviate employees’ concerns that a disgruntled employee may have easy access to a gun at the workplace. Employers have also raised concerns about whether the law violates their duties under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (“OSHA”) to maintain a workplace free of recognized hazards. A federal district judge recently ruled, however, that a similar law in Florida did not violate OSHA.
Employers and property owners also assert that the law infringes on their private property rights. Under prior law, nothing limited a private property owner’s right to ban guns from his or her property. Of course, private property owners also had the right to allow lawfully possessed guns on their property, subject to other state or federal restrictions. Now, blanket prohibitions are no longer permitted. In fact, the protections afforded under the law extend not only to employees but all individuals (including customers and invitees) who park on the property.
While there are good arguments on both sides of the issue that could fuel high-spirited conversation or debate, the practical reality is that Louisiana employers need to review and update their workplace conduct policies to ensure compliance with this new statute. This new law also provides an excellent opportunity to review and update safety and security measures to deal with any increased risks associated with the presence of guns at your particular workplace.