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Employers in several states are facing a tough new liability issue: guns in the workplace. A bill recently introduced in Florida would allow employees to bring handguns to work, as long as the firearms remain locked inside their cars. With ten sponsors, the proposal is gaining momentum and should be decided in the next legislative session, which begins in March 2006. Utah introduced a bill last term that would challenge employers’ rights to restrict guns on their property. It is expected to reappear in the upcoming term in January. These latest initiatives follow laws passed in 2004 in Oklahoma and Kentucky that go even further in prohibiting employers from banning guns from the workplace. Led by ConocoPhillips Company, a group of companies has filed a lawsuit to overturn the Oklahoma law. That suit, ConocoPhillips v. C. Brad Henry, is pending before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. Minnesota is caught up in appeals over a provision passed in 2003 that prevents employers from restricting guns in company parking lots. Other states, like Ohio, have laws that allow guns in the workplace unless an employer has a written, posted policy prohibiting them. While the issue is hashed out from state to state, employment lawyers say they are worried about the overall effort to allow employees easier access to guns. “The concern is that allowing weapons so close to the front door could create a violent situation for the employer,” says Matt Strubbe, an employment lawyer in the Chicago office of Fisher & Phillips. Allowing employees to keep weapons in their cars shortens the “cooling off” period for disgruntled employees who would otherwise have to go home for a weapon. That leaves managers as the front line of defense in identifying dangerous situations, says Strubbe. Michael O’Brien, who is counsel to the Utah Society for Human Resource Management, says the group will oppose any legislation intended to thwart a 2004 Utah Supreme Court decision that upholds an employer’s right to prohibit guns on its premises. “There is definitely a strong feeling out here that people should be allowed to bring their weapon wherever they go � that it’s akin to a civil liberty,” says O’Brien, an employment lawyer at Jones Waldo Holbrook & McDonough in Salt Lake City. In reality, he says, the issue is more of a property rights debate than a Second Amendment question. The prevailing attitude of courts has been to allow employers to set the policy on whether to allow employees to bring guns onto their property. The Utah Supreme Court followed that line of reasoning last year when it decided Hansen v. America Online Inc., which upheld an employer’s right to terminate employees who had violated its “no guns allowed” policy. “There aren’t a lot of cases on the issue,” says O’Brien. “This was one of the first to reach that level by any state court, and one of the first to address it head-on.” AOL fired three employees after a surveillance camera showed them moving guns from a vehicle in the company parking lot for an after-work hunting trip. The three sued under state law, claiming that AOL’s rule violated public policy on gun ownership. But the court rejected that argument, saying it wasn’t a significant issue of public policy requiring courts to intervene. Paul Viollis, a risk management consultant with Risk Control Strategies in New York, asserts that employers in states that allow guns in parking lots and inside their doors will have an even greater burden to ensure the physical security of employees. “Employers that can’t have a policy that prohibits guns are going to have to enhance physical security,” Viollis says. A version of this story originally appeared in The National Law Journal, a sibling publication of Corporate Counsel.

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