Executive Summary: On May 28, 2013, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper released an Opinion addressing the question of whether Tennessee's Safe Commute Act "prohibits an employer from terminating an at-will employee who brings a firearm or firearm ammunition onto the employer's property?" According to the Attorney General, it does not.
Specifically, the Attorney General found that the Safe Commute Act (discussed in more detail in our May 16 Alert, Tennessee's Safe Commute Act May Impact Workplace Weapons Policies) merely decriminalizes the carrying and storage of firearms and ammunition in a permit holder's privately owned vehicle. The Attorney General stated that where the General Assembly has desired to carve out specific prohibitions against employer actions, it has done so – for example, prohibiting the discharge of employees based on their use of cigarettes or smokeless tobacco while not at work. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 50-1-304(e)(1),(2). Thus, because the Safe Commute Act contains no specific language prohibiting employer actions based on the possession of firearms and/or ammunition in compliance with the new law, the Attorney General found the General Assembly did not mean to alter Tennessee's long adhered-to employment-at-will doctrine.
Employers' Bottom Line: The Attorney General's opinion provides support for employers seeking to continue to restrict employees from bringing weapons or ammunition onto company property as it appears the state's chief legal officer agrees such policies may be lawfully enforced despite the new law. While the opinion is not binding on Tennessee courts, the Attorney General's interpretation is certainly persuasive regarding the application of the Safe Commute Act in the employment context. To ensure compliance with the law, however, employers seeking to enforce an otherwise non-discriminatory workplace weapons policy against an employee should conduct a thorough investigation and seek input from experienced employment counsel before taking adverse action.
If you have any questions regarding the new law or other labor or employment related issues, please contact the author of this Alert, Josh Sudbury, firstname.lastname@example.org, or the FordHarrison attorney with whom you usually work.