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.
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.
Apparently Not-So-Obvious Exceptions
Employers who do not own the property where employees are permitted to park is given some protection under the law. Some of the exceptions seem so fundamentally necessary that it's ironic to have them be specially carved out of the law.
For example, one of the most significant is a discipline-based exception. If an employee is subject to disciplinary action, employers may revoke his or her right to bring concealed weapons onto the property. This certainly sounds like an important carve out.
Yet, how effective can it really be? You would expect that an employee who is already subject to discipline and then chooses to violate another policy by bringing a gun to work would be the person most likely to carry out an act of violence in the workplace. At that point, what difference does a policy violation make?
Another, seemingly obvious exception is company-owned vehicles. In other words, the employer may prohibit employees from carrying a concealed weapon while driving a company-owned vehicle. Really, is it necessary to explicitly exempt vehicles owned by the employer?
When Can an Employer Search the Vehicle?
The law does not permit employers to search employees' vehicles even if parked at the employer's place of business. There is one very important exception to this prohibition. The prohibition on searches is lifted if there is reason to believe that the employer might prevent an immediate threat to the health, life, or safety of others.
The Act also permits employers to search an employee's locked vehicle in the case of theft--sort of. There are limits on this exception that make its application very limited. First, the theft has to be detected by a private security officer. Obviously, this means that most small businesses cannot utilize this exception. Second, the employee must consent to the search. Sort of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? If the employee consents, is the exception even needed at all?
The law includes limits on potential employer liability from injuries arising from weapons brought to work by employees. Although the intention of the legislature is a valued one, it does not seem to reconcile with the purpose of banning guns at work.
By prohibiting employees from carrying concealed weapons at work, employers don't just want to limit their legal exposure. I feel confident saying that the purpose of such a policy is to prevent violence at work. The safety of employees, customers, and other invited guests is the object of this type of policy.
Limiting liability on paper will not prevent the violence from occurring in the first place. Nor will it effectively prevent employers from being named in a resulting lawsuit. Despite the fact that they might not be on the hook for damages, they will inevitably be forced to incur the expense of litigation.
With all due respect to the Georgia legislature, it seems that this bill takes several steps backwards in the necessary effort by employers to protect the safety of their workforce.