On Thursday, March 14, 2013, Governor Bill Haslam signed a new gun law for our state, which will go into effect on July 1.
The new law allows those with a lawful handgun carry permit to transport/carry the gun and/or ammunition for the same onto any premises in their own personal vehicle and to then to store/leave it there as long as (1) the vehicle is lawfully parked, (2) locked, and (3) the gun is stored out of sight (and specifically, in the trunk, glove compartment, or other locked internal or securely-affixed external container if the person is not in the vehicle). [Note that federal law, which trumps state law, does not allow guns to be carried onto school premises.]
The effect of the new law will be interesting to see, as the law also expressly allows property owners (or those who otherwise “control or manage” the same) to keep in place or make new rules prohibiting gun possession on their property.
The difference this new law thus will make for employers is that those who do not have such a policy generally will not be able to enforce such a policy only against their employees. In a memorandum of intent letter attached to the new law, the sponsors of it in the State Senate stated that they do not wish for this new law to change the “at-will nature of employment in Tennessee.” However, they also commented that, in their view, terminating an employee solely for being found to have a gun in his/her locked vehicle while at work would be a violation of the intent of this law. (Such comments are the reason we advise implementing a “no guns on our property (except by authorized law enforcement personnel)” posted rule applicable to ALL those who come onto your property, rather than trying to only prohibit employees from doing so through a handbook or other internal policy – as such limited internal policies may not be deemed enforceable under the new law the same way “total prohibition” policies are.)
On a final note, the new law also expressly releases property owners from civil liability for assaults and other violent or criminal activity which is committed by others using guns on their premises. Property owners also are not responsible for the theft of a gun or ammunition which is carried/stored in accordance with the new law.
The fact that employers are only released from civil liability for criminal acts committed by “others” using guns which are lawfully transported or stored under this new law is another reason to consider a “no guns on our property (except by authorized law enforcement personnel)” rule – as otherwise, you could be held liable for the acts of “vigilante” employees who decide to take it upon themselves to defend themselves, others and/or your business through an “agency” or “respondeat superior” legal argument, which could allow such acts to be attributed to your business as a matter of law.
We will of course keep you updated as this issue of gun rights versus employer concerns over workplace safety continues to evolve. For now, again, our advice is that if you are planning to terminate or otherwise discipline employees for bringing/having guns on your premises, you need to broaden this policy to apply to ALL those coming onto your premises. You also need to post this policy at your property entrances, so all those entering your property will have fair warning of it.