Articles Posted in Workplace Violence

Delaware experienced a tragedy yesterday at the New Castle County courthouse. As reported by ABCNews.com, a man embroiled in a custody dispute entered the courthouse lobby this morning shortly after 8 a.m. and opened fire, fatally wounding two women and injuring two Capital Police officers. The shooter exchanged gunfire with the officers and died at the scene.

The courthouse is just a few blocks away, on the same street as our firm’s offices. Reports of the story spread quickly but were not confirmed until this afternoon. The courthouse was evacuated and will be closed tomorrow.

Gun violence certainly has been on the minds of many of us in the past several months. The dialogue has even extended to the topic of guns in the workplace. For example, despite the devastating events of the recent past, some state legislatures are considering legislation that would permit employees to keep loaded firearms in their vehicles, even in the employer’s parking lot.

Prof. Stephen Bainbridge makes a great argument against state laws that permit employees to store guns in their cars. In his post, Guns vs. At-Will Employment, Prof. Bainbridge discusses a recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court interpreting that state’s gun laws. In its opinion, the Court found that an employee who was fired for having a handgun in his car (for which he had proper license), could bring a wrongful-termination suit against his employer, the University of Kentucky. Prof. Bainbridge concludes that these state laws constitute a significant and problematic exception to the employment-at-will doctrine.

On McAfee & Taft’s EmployerLinc blog, Charlie Plumb recently wrote about a new law in Oklahoma that raises similar issues. “Concealed-carry laws” also took effect last year in Wisconsin and Texas.

Roughly six months have gone by since guns-at-work laws were passed in Georgia and Florida.  I posted previously about the legislative initiatives in both states.  (See Georgia Takes One Step Backwards in the Fight Against Workplace Violence; Florida Law Permits Guns at Work; Delaware Initiates an Anti-Workplace Violence Training Program).  John Phillips, at The Word on Employment Law, has done an excellent job following up on similar efforts in other states.handgun   He posted yesterday about the direct impact that these guns-at-work laws can have–for employers, its armed, and unarmed employees, and its clients and customers.  In the post, John writes about a Starbucks employee who was shut in the leg while working.  The employee was not only the victim in this case–he was also the shooter.  He shot himself while working with a gun he’d brought to work.  See John’s post for more details and a discussion of the potentially far ranging implications that these new laws can have for employers and employees.

Lou Michels and Halima Horton of McGuire Woods will be presenting a free webinar about state gun laws that prohibit employers from outlawing firearms on company property–including employee-owned guns kept in personal vehicles.  This is a topic we’ve covered here a number of times and are likely to hear more about as incidents of workplace violence continue to occur across the country.  I’d encourage you to take advantage of this free, 1-hour program.  It is scheduled for July 29th at 12:30 EDT and you can register online.

For previous posts on Guns in the Workplace and Workplace Violence, see:

Georgia Takes One Step Backwards in the Fight Against Workplace Violence

As employment lawyers, we often counsel managers on how to resolve interpersonal conflicts in the workplace.  It is hard to imagine a workplace where disputes don’t arise amongst coworkers at least occasionally.  Sometimes these conflicts can boil over and end up in heated arguments in the office. 

When employees get emotional, management should step in to prevent the situation from getting further out of hand.  Most of us have experienced a dispute with a colleague that made us so mad we could almost scream!

And some of us may have been in a situation where they could almost knock the block off of a coworker.

Workplace violence is a modern-day reality.  Conscientious employers take every precaution possible to prevent on-the-job injuries as well as to plan in advance for the unpreventable.  The new Georgia law, known as the “Parking Lot Law,”  makes it much more difficult to be a conscientious employer.

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Exemptions for Property Owners

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue signed the “Business Security and Employee Privacy Act” on May 14. This Act expands the areas in which holders of firearm licenses may legally carry concealed weapons – and places some limitations on employers’ rights.  Similar to the recently passed Florida law, the Act prohibits employers from banning concealed weapons on company property.  It also puts significant limits on an employer’s right to search vehicles parked on site.

There is one major difference between the Parking Lot Law and the Florida law, the Preservation & Protection of the Right to Keep & Bear Arms in Motor Vehicle Act of 2008, which was signed into effect on April 14, 2008.  The Georgia law does not apply to employer that own the employee parking lot property.  It preserves the rights of the employer as a property owner, to restrict access by prohibiting concealed weapons.  The Florida law is broader and applies even to businesses that own the property. 

A preventative workplace violence strategy can be an important best practice.  As we’ve previously discussed in a post about what employers can learn when violence hits close to home, employers also should have a real strategy for the “during” and “after” of a workplace violence incident.  One common prevention tool popular among employers today is the Employee-Assistance Provider (EAP).  Considered by many to be an effective way to intervene before little troubles become big problems, EAPs have enjoyed increased popularity over the past several years.

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The recent settlement by an EAP in a case involving a fatal workplace shooting may shine new light on just how much influence this type of service may have over your employees and how much risk you incur if you don’t set clear policies with your EAP. It should put employers on high alert about your EAPs policies on how they address and communicate referrals where violence is an issue.

The shooting in 2003 killed six employees in a Lockheed Martin plant in Meridian, Mississippi.  The suit was filed by Erica Willis, the daughter of one of the six victims.  The shooter worked at the Lockheed facility for 20 years before the shooting, in which he also took his own life. Willis filed suit not against Lockheed, the shooter’s employer, but against Lockheed’s EAP, NEAS, Inc.

The new Florida Gun Law would prevent employers from banning workers from bringing guns to work. To describe the legislation a “controversial” would be a gross understatement.

Workplace ViolenceAdvocates say the intent of the bill is to ensure that citizens’ constitutional right to keep and bear legally owned firearms within their vehicles. Opponents have raised concerns about the increased incidents of workplace violence (and the liability that goes with it). They also argue that they should have the right to set rules on their property. Some workplaces are exempt from the law, such as nuclear power plants, prisons, schools, and homeland security businesses.

The law puts Florida employers in a seemingly unwinnable situation. On one hand, all employers have an obligation to protect the health and safety of their workers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). Yet, they cannot prevent or eliminate a serious safety risk by banning guns in the workplace.

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