Weapons in the workplace: a growing concern
In a clear sign of the times, ERC’s research has seen “workplace safety” rise to the surface as an area of concern and action for many employers. Setting aside the high profile news stories about workplace violence over the past several years, even here in Northeast Ohio employers have experienced comparatively more incidences of violence in their workplaces firsthand in recent years.
Although the percentages are still low (7.4% in 2016), last year represented the sixth straight year in which participants in ERC’s Workplace Practices Survey reported an increase in the percentage of organizations experiencing at least one incident of workplace violence during the past two years. A documented slow, but steady increase in these numbers, an average of 1% each year since 2011, has been accompanied by a renewed focus by local employers to make sure they have the policies and procedures in place at their organization to ensure the basic safety of their employees.
According to the same report cited above, 87% of participating Northeast Ohio employers have “a written safety program and procedures” in place.
Again, looking at local data, 89% of the Workplace Practices participants reported that their organization has a policy in place “prohibiting firearms and/or weapons from the workplace”, an all-time high for the 16 year-old annual survey tracking business trends in Northeast Ohio. Given the apparent widespread popularity of these prohibitions, many employers in the region and across the state of Ohio will soon need to take a look at the exact language contained in these policies.
Ohio law: (some) changes coming soon…
In fact, by “soon”, we mean this coming Tuesday, March 21, 2017. This is the date on which Senate Bill 199 becomes a part of the Ohio Revised Code, making it legal for employees with concealed carry licenses to have these firearms inside of their vehicle in company parking lots.
Per a summary produced by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission (a non-partisan state agency) the new law, “Specifies that an employer may not discharge without just cause, refuse to hire, or discriminate against a person who holds a valid concealed handgun license regarding employment-related matters, on the basis that the person possessed a firearm…within a motor vehicle located on the employer’s premises.”
The bill’s backers [Buckeye Firearm Association] argued that by including company parking lots in the definition of “employer’s premises”, as has typically been the case to date in employer firearms bans, employees are put at additional risk for harm by potential outside attackers. Parking lots, they pointed out, tend to be open to the general public and, therefore, in these exposed gun-free zones, employees could not be protected (and could not choose to protect themselves under the existing employer firearm bans) to the same degree as they could be inside a company’s physical building where, it should be emphasized, firearm bans will still be allowed.
Company policy: check that handbook!
No matter how the laws around firearms (or any other weapons) in the workplace change over time, whether it’s next week or next year, keeping your employees safe physically as well as keeping your organization safe from legal challenges really boils down to proper documentation.Ideally, your employee handbook already addresses the question of weapons in the workplace.
If your company policy falls within the 89% of organizations that ban firearms and/or other weapons, it is possible that the exact language will need to be altered.
Employers are encouraged to consult legal counsel to determine whether or not their policy language is in conflict with the new law. Employers should remember that the law only protects employees in specific circumstances. To be protected by the law, the employee must have a valid CCW license, the vehicle must be in an authorized location, and each firearm must remain inside the employee’s vehicle, while the employee is present, or each firearm must be locked within the trunk, glove box, or other closed compartment when the employee exits the vehicle. When revising your weapons policy, or creating one for the first time, keep in mind that private businesses can still ban guns from inside the company building and surrounding areas, so long as it is posted conspicuously that firearms are not allowed.