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Employer restrictions on guns in California workplaces

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in HR Management,Human Resources

This month, we’ll examine several questions about how far employers can go toward prohibiting employees from bringing guns to work.

Can we restrict our employees from bringing guns into the workplace?

California law does not prevent employers from banning guns on their property. Some businesses, however, because of the nature of their business, may wish to allow workers to be armed.

Although state law does not prohibit employers from banning guns in California workplaces, an employee’s privacy rights may interfere with implementation of a ban on weapons at the workplace. How? By restricting an employer’s right to search for weapons.

Employers should have a clear policy reserving the right to search an employee’s desk, locker, and personal belongings to enable them to enforce gun bans on em­­ployer property and for other reasons.

Generally, how far employers can go on banning guns from work depends on whether the weapons are concealed or open.

Concealed weapon laws: According to California Penal Code sections 12025-12031 and 12050-12054, except in extremely limited circumstances, individuals may not carry a concealed firearm on their person in public unless they have a valid Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) license. CCW permits are issued only by a county sheriff to residents of the county or by the head of a city police department to residents of that city.

Open carry laws: Until two years ago, Californians could legally carry a handgun in plain sight on certain public property, as long as the weapon was unloaded. (Open carry of a loaded firearm in any public place, on one’s person or in a vehicle, was and remains illegal.) Even under the open carry law, carrying any weapon—loaded or unloaded—in government buildings, school zones and post offices was prohibited.

A law in effect since 2012 prohibits the open carry of unloaded firearms in all public places if the person is also carrying ammunition that could be used in the weapon.

Are there exceptions to the open carry laws?

Exceptions to the open carry laws are recognized for police officers, security guards, armored car drivers, and others you would expect, such as gun shop owners in the exercise of their business.

An exception also applies to the entertainment industry. In California, someone who supplies firearms for a motion picture, television or video production or entertainment event may legally carry unloaded firearms openly.

Also in the entertainment industry, unloaded firearms may be lawfully carried as part of a production or event, as part of rehearsing or practicing for participation in a production or event, while the individual is at the production or event, or rehearsal or practice for that production or event.

Can we prohibit employees who park on our premises from keeping guns in their cars?

Employers may wish to ban workers from having weapons even inside their locked cars in the company’s parking lot. It is illegal for individuals to carry exposed weapons (loaded or unloaded) in their vehicles or in the center console or glove compartment.

Transporting an unloaded weapon, carried out of sight under lock and key, is legal. For example, an unloaded weapon can be placed in the trunk of an employee’s car, but not in a console or glove box. Neither place is considered secure enough.

Employee privacy rights may affect an employer’s ability to enforce a ban on workers legally carrying guns in their trunks. A clear policy statement does not necessarily give employers the right to search a worker’s locked car for a legal item.

An employer that suspects a worker is carrying guns illegally in his or her car can ask police to search the vehicle based on probable cause. However, if the employee has a legal license or permit for a weapon and is carrying it legally, the employer’s right to conduct a search is questionable at best.

Should notices about gun policies be posted?

Yes. An employer that wishes to ban employees from bringing firearms to work must post a notice on its premises notifying employees of that policy. Employers that wish to ban nonemployee visitors from bringing firearms onto its premises must also post a notice.

Liability for gun violence depends upon whether the presence of a gun was known or reasonably likely. Failure to take steps to eliminate the danger—for example, failing to ban guns and post notices of the ban—can create employer liability. Conversely, posting notices that the employer has prohibited guns in the workplace may help limit liability.

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