Tags: Risk Management

For many people in the U.S., guns are commonplace items seen almost everyday and are seen as a means of protection for themselves and those they care about. For many others, the mere sight of a handgun makes them extremely uncomfortable. What is a company to do when these two sorts of people work under the same roof?

The legal answer will largely depend on the state in which the office sits. To date, no state has mandated that employers allow employees to carry guns in the office itself. However, many states—including Minnesota (Minn. Stat. § 624.714, subd. 18(c)) and Nebraska (Neb. Rev. Stat. § 69-2441) have prohibited employers from disallowing guns on their property if the gun remains locked in the employee’s vehicle. A bill to enact a similar law recently failed in South Dakota, with the opponents citing potential employer liability and private property rights of employers as rationales.[1]

Employees who advocate for guns on company property and those that oppose guns on company property have the same base concern—safety in the workplace. Employers have a duty under OSHA to provide for a workplace that is free of recognized hazards to employee safety. What is causing the employee wishing for the gun to feel unsafe, and is it something the employer can remedy in other ways?

When confronting this question, employers must walk a delicate line. Of course, every employer wants to keep its people safe by putting measures into place to make employees feel safe at work and on company property. But an employer should not go too far in making promises it cannot keep. For example, employers have incurred significant liability due to “assuming a duty” to protect their employees. An employer in Kansas was recently subjected to a $3.25 Million verdict when an employee claimed it made representations to her that it would put policies in place to protect her from her ex-boyfriend but then failed to follow through with its promises.[2] While it may echo of “no good deed goes unpunished,” an employer should take care to follow through with its representations to avoid potential liability.

How to walk this delicate line between incurring additional liability and keeping your employees safe? The best approach includes having a comprehensive and zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence. Such a policy should:

  • Cover harassment, intimidation, or bullying
  • Include clear expectations regarding gun possession in compliance with state law
  • Provide for reporting procedures regarding
  • Clearly list emergency procedures
  • Clearly list the infrastructure in place to provide for the safety of the employees

These policies should be made clear, but employers must ensure they are followed should dangers arise. If a policy represents employees certain procedures will be followed and they are subsequently ignored, significant liability can arise for the Employer. Employer should work with their counsel to ensure compliance with state law and to protect their employees without incurring undue liability. For any questions, contact our Sioux Falls, Sioux City, or Omaha office today!


[1] http://sdlegislature.gov/Legislative_Session/Bills/Bill.aspx?Bill=1173&Session=2019

[2] https://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2016/04/05/ooida-verdict-shows-best-intentions-dont-eliminate.html

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