Georgia’s Business Security and Employee Privacy Act (BSEPA) took effect July 1, 2008. 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 the workplace into shooting galleries, but it will limit employers’ rights to search employees’ vehicles.
The BSEPA covers most of Georgia’s public and private employers. (See “BSEPA exemptions” below to learn when and where the law does not apply.)
The BSEPA grants “any employee holding a valid Georgia firearms license the right to store his or her firearm—out of sight—in his or her own locked vehicle in the employer’s parking lot or facility.” The law specifically does not cover employees who lack a valid Georgia firearms license. Additionally, the law bars employers from searching employees’ vehicles for any reason unless the situation falls under one of the law’s exceptions.
The law does not apply in parking lots the employer owns or leases. The law also does not apply if the lot is restricted from public access and the employer is using the lot on a temporary basis.
Employers also may prohibit employees who have completed or have a pending disciplinary action from bringing firearms to work in their cars.
The law allows employers to search employer-owned or leased vehicles for firearms. It allows them to conduct vehicle searches to prevent an immediate threat to health, life or safety.
Employers may have a licensed, private security officer search an employee’s vehicle if the employer believes the employee has property belonging to the employer, as long as the employee grants permission for the search.
Employer-initiated searches are limited to circumstances directly connected with the employer’s stated reason for the search. For instance, an employer that searched a company vehicle with the belief the employee using that vehicle had company property does not have the right to search the employee’s personal vehicle without the employee’s permission.
Employees do not have the right to sue employers directly should they initiate a search of an employee’s car. The law states that only the state attorney general may file charges against an employer for searching an employee’s vehicle in violation of the BSEPA.
The BSEPA claims to not affect employees’ at-will employee status. Apparently, the law allows employees to sue employers if they feel the employers violated their rights under the BSEPA (other than over an unlawful search of an employee’s car).
The law bars employers from requiring employees to relinquish their BSEPA rights as a condition of employment. This raises an interesting question: Can employers require employees to arbitrate BSEPA disputes? Mandatory arbitration agreements could potentially be viewed as requiring employees to relinquish BSEPA rights in violation of the act.
What employers should do
First, determine whether the law covers your organization (see box below).
Once you determine whether the law applies to you, inform your employees and advise them of their rights and obligations pertaining to firearms in the workplace. In particular, if you determine that the BSEPA doesn’t cover you, reiterate your existing firearms policy.
However, if you determine that the law does cover your workplace, let employees know the exceptions to the law (such as employer-owned vehicles and employer-owned or controlled parking lots). If employees use several different parking lots, an employer should specifically state which parking lots it controls and which policies apply. Always let employees know that the law allows employers to search cars to prevent an imminent act of violence.
Review your existing policies to see if they conflict with the BSEPA. Change any policies that do, and train the appropriate personnel so they know what the law allows the employer to do and what it prohibits.
In particular, make it clear that you have the right to restrict an employee from having a firearm on the premises if that employee has completed a disciplinary action or has one pending. The law is silent as to how long an employer can bar the employee from having a firearm on the premises.
Like any other disciplinary procedure, be sure to make your penalties consistent from case to case. Penalizing one employee more than another could lead to charges of discrimination. Consult with your attorney if you have questions.
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