Across the country, employers are grappling with new laws that bring guns closer to the office.
Starbucks Corp. SBUX +1.83% made headlines recently when its chief executive asked customers to keep guns out of company cafes. His appeal thrust the company into local and nationwide debates about the role of private business and public gun laws.
Today, some 22 states have passed laws that limit property owners’ ability to ban firearms in vehicles in parking areas, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco-based gun-control advocacy group.
Details vary by state, but under most so-called Bring Your Gun to Work laws, employers can keep firearms out of offices and factory floors, but they can’t ban weapons in the parking lot.
Some companies have taken the changes in stride, but others are rewriting their human-resources policies, training employees to detect early signs of employee aggression and considering extra security for tense situations like termination meetings. Law firms specializing in labor and employment say managers are bombarding them with questions about adapting to the new measures.
Many big employers, including FedEx Corp.FDX +2.96% , Volkswagen AGVOW.XE +1.48% , Caterpillar Inc.CAT +0.56% and Bridgestone Corp.5108.TO +0.71% , have fought the laws, arguing that their right to maintain a safe workplace—and set the rules on their property—should trump the right to carry a gun.
“Much like a private homeowner is able to tell his guests whether they can bring a gun into his yard, FedEx should have the right to decide what it will and will not allow on its private property,” Mark Hogan, vice president of U.S. security for FedEx Express told Tennessee lawmakers last year. Tennessee considered—and eventually passed—a law allowing guns in parking lots.
Gun-rights advocates counter that such laws increase worker safety, and say that workers have a right to protect themselves during their commutes. The National Rifle Association has flexed its lobbying muscle to push the laws, garnering the support of Republican state legislators, and even some Democrats.
This year Illinois became the latest state to pass a concealed-carry law. Expected to go into effect early next year, the law will allow workers to bring guns to the office parking lot.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce has held several sold-out seminars on how employers should prepare for the new law. At the Chicago office of labor lawyers Ogletree Deakins, attorneys are recommending clients overhaul their violence-prevention policies to explicitly define unacceptable behavior. Since a concealed-carry permit won’t show up on a background check in many states, they are also advising employers to require staff with handgun permits to report them to human resources, said Tobias E. Schlueter, a shareholder at the law firm.
That rankles gun advocates. “I don’t think it’s any of their business. Period,” said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. Concealed-carry permit-holders undergo stringent background checks, he said.
Last year 375 workers were killed in shootings on the job, according to the Labor Department, and in recent years the number has been lower than pre-recession levels. A 2005 North Carolina-based study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that workplaces that allowed guns were about five times more likely to have a worker get killed on the job compared to workplaces that prohibited all kinds of weapons.