Last April, the Florida Legislature passed the Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008. Many call it by a much less official name: the Guns at Work Law.
The law expands employees’ rights to transport lawfully registered firearms in their vehicles even if they are traveling to work. The law will not turn workplaces into shooting galleries, but it will limit employers’ rights to search employee vehicles.
Florida’s Guns at Work Law covers virtually all of Florida’s employers. (See box below to learn who doesn’t have to comply.) The law protects lawful possession of firearms as long as they are locked in the employees’ vehicles. The law’s protections apply to only legally owned guns. The firearms must be kept out of sight.
The law bars employers from searching employees’ vehicles for any reason or even inquiring as to whether an employee has a gun in the car.
Very few exceptions
Unlike other states with similar laws, Florida’s new statute provides no leeway for employers to bar firearms from their own parking lots.
Even employees who are facing disciplinary proceedings on the job have the right to keep legal firearms in their cars in the parking lot.
The law also keeps private security personnel from searching a car in the employer’s parking lot. The law clearly states that motor vehicle searches may be carried out only by “‘on-duty’ law enforcement personnel based upon due process and must comply with constitutional protections.”
The law bars employers from refusing to admit employees or customers into parking lots because they have lawful firearms locked inside their cars. Further, employers may not terminate employees for having legal firearms locked out of sight in their vehicles in the employers’ parking lots.
The law bars employers from requiring employees to relinquish their rights to have guns in the parking lot as a condition of employment. (This raises an interesting question: Can employers require employees to arbitrate guns-at-work disputes? Mandatory arbitration agreements potentially could be viewed as requiring employees to relinquish guns-at-work rights in violation of the act.)
The law does make one small concession to property rights. Employers do not have to allow guns in employer-owned vehicles that employees drive.
Unlike other states’ laws, Florida’s statute makes no specific statement that it does not change an employee’s at-will status. As a result, virtually any aggrieved employee could claim he or she was terminated in violation of this law if he or she could demonstrate that the employer knew the employee had a gun in a car in the parking lot.
Employees who believe their rights under this law have been violated may file a charge with the state attorney general. The law allows the attorney general to seek damages, injunctive relief and civil penalties. The attorney general may also seek to negotiate a settlement between the parties.
But aggrieved employees do not have to wait for the attorney general. They may file in state court to seek “court costs, attorneys’ fees, and reasonable personal costs and losses suffered” by the plaintiff.
How employers should respond
First, determine whether the law covers your organization.
Once you determine whether the law applies, inform your employees and advise them of their rights and obligations pertaining to firearms in the workplace. In particular, if you determine that the Guns at Work Law does not cover you, reiterate your existing firearms policy.
Review your existing policies to see whether they conflict with the Guns at Work Law. Change any policies that do and train the appropriate personnel so they know what the law allows employers to do and what it prohibits.
The law gives employers no leeway for employees with a history of violence or who face possible disciplinary actions. Employers should talk with administrators to develop strategies to inform you, key executives and security staff about potentially violent workers as soon as possible.
You may wish to install metal detectors or begin searching employees entering the building. As always, consult with your attorney to determine the best path.
Because the law appears to violate employers’ property rights, several initiatives attacking the law as unconstitutional are working through the courts. Unfortunately, what will most likely get this law changed is another workplace shooting. After all, it takes only a minute to go from legally locked firearm to murder weapon.
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