Guns in the Workplace: What Employers Can – and Can’t – Do

No Trespass / Security, Safety News, State-Specific Signs

Workplace violence continues to be a major concern for employers across the country. Every year, 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence. In 2014, 409 people were fatally injured in work-related attacks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An active shooter situation is by far the deadliest incident. But what can employers do to limit firearms on company property? The answer varies greatly depending on where you are.

A recent article in EHS Today looks at this situation in some detail, and uncovers just how complicated it can be for employers who want to keep guns out of their workplace. For example, most states agree that property owners can restrict firearms in the workplace, but storing a handgun in a privately owned vehicle parked on company property is an entirely different matter. Today 26 states have “parking lot laws” that allow employees to keep guns in their vehicles, although specifics vary greatly from state to state.

If an employer wants to restrict weapons, it is important to develop and distribute a policy addressing weapons possession on its premises. Proper signage is required in many states, as well. If you’re thinking about how you can address employee weapons on company property, this article is a great start to help you understand the situation, legal complications, and what you can – and can’t – do at your workplace.

What OSHA Says about Workplace Violence

There are currently no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence. However, under the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The courts have interpreted OSHA’s general duty clause to mean that an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard. OSHA has developed Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Workplace Violence, which provides guidance and procedures to be followed when conducting inspections and issuing citations related to the occupational exposure to workplace violence.

OSHA identifies four types of workplace violence that companies need to address to help keep employees safe:

  • Stranger violence – Random acts, such as robberies, when employees have contact with the general public
  • Client and/or patient violence – Some workplaces have higher risk: hospitals, social services, government offices, schools, correctional facilities
  • Employee violence – Interactions between employees and/or employers
  • Personal violence – Typically involves someone who doesn’t work for you, but has a relationship with an employee