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Employee Terminated for Legally Storing Gun in Locked Car at Work? Not so Fast…

Employee Terminated for Legally Storing Gun in Locked Car at Work? Not so Fast…

By: Randolph T. Barker

With increased attention to incidents of workplace violence, a growing number of employers have implemented work rules prohibiting employees from bringing weapons to work, or even storing them in their vehicles while at work or on duty. Some employees who have been terminated for violations of these policies have even reacted by suing their employer, claiming they were wrongfully discharged.

On August 8, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a Mississippi employee who lawfully stored his gun in his locked car at work could proceed with a wrongful termination suit against his employer (Swindol v. Aurora Flight Scis. Corp., 5th Cir., No. 14-60779). The unanimous panel applied Mississippi law to limit an employer’s right to regulate the possession of weapons outside of the workplace. Mississippi is one of twenty-two states with so-called “bring your gun to work” laws that prohibit employers from banning weapons stored in designated employee parking areas. Attempts to enact similar legislation in Michigan are ongoing, but to this point have failed. Under Michigan’s Carrying Concealed Weapons Act, employers may stop employees from carrying concealed pistols on their person while working, but the question of whether such prohibitions may extend to employee parking areas is still unanswered. In other words, while regulation of guns inside the workplace is permissible, it is not clear whether employers in Michigan can prohibit their employees from storing guns in their cars.

These cases reveal the liability risks for employers who prohibit guns on company property as part of an overall security policy intended to curb the threat of workplace violence. That risk increases as more and more states enact laws protecting an individual’s right to bear arms.

Berry Moorman’s Labor & Employment Law practice group will cover this topic in depth on September 21, 2016, as part of the American Society of Employers’ Annual Employment Law Workshop. During the breakout session, entitled “Weapons in the Workplace: Employers in the Crossfire,” the impact of this and other recent decisions will be discussed, together with best practices to reduce the risk of employer liability. For more information on this issue or the upcoming presentation, please contact a member of Berry Moorman’s Labor & Employment Law practice group.