Tennessee and Alabama recently signed new bills into law that allow employees to store certain firearms in their vehicles while at work. By passing the laws, these states join several other so-called “bring your gun to work” states that prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees who keep firearms in their privately-owned vehicles. Although both laws will still allow employers to prevent employees from carrying firearms on their person while on company premises, employers that take action against employees for possessing firearms in their vehicles in accordance with these laws will be subject to civil suits, so long as the employee is in complete compliance with all provisions of the laws. The Tennessee law will go into effect on July 1, 2013, and the Alabama law will take effect August 1, 2013.
In Alabama, under the “Guns in the Parking Lot Act,” employers may no longer restrict or prohibit the transportation or storage of lawfully possessed firearms or ammunition in privately-owned vehicles, even if the vehicles are located on company premises, subject to several conditions. Employees who possess valid concealed weapons permits may store such firearms in their vehicles on company property so long as the vehicle is in a location where it is otherwise allowed to be and the weapon is out of plain sight. Additionally, if the vehicle is left unattended, the firearm must be locked within the car or a container attached to the car. If the employee does not possess a valid concealed weapons permit, the employee may still be able to store a weapon that is legal in Alabama for hunting, which would exclude pistols. However, the employee can only store the weapon during hunting season, must have a valid hunting license, and the weapon must be unloaded at all times. Employees may be restricted from carrying hunting weapons in their cars if they have been convicted of violent crimes or sexual offenses involving a minor, are subject to a Domestic Violence Order, have any legal history of insanity or mental disability, or have documented instances of physical violence in the workplace.
The Alabama law does not prevent employers that believe an employee presents a risk of harm to himself or others from inquiring into the employee’s possession of any weapons and the employee’s compliance with this law. However, if the employee is in compliance with the law, employers may not take any action against an employee for possession of a firearm. Employers may always report complaints to law enforcement regarding any credible information that an employee is storing illegal firearms or other illegal items in a vehicle on the premises, and this law does not prevent reporting threats made by employees to physically harm themselves or others.
Employers are absolutely immune from claims arising out of harm that occurs due to the lawful storage of firearms under this section. The presence of such firearms does not constitute failure to provide a safe workplace under the law, and it does not impose a duty on employers to investigate compliance with the law.
In Tennessee, the Safe Commute Act will take effect on July 1, 2013. The Tennessee law is similar to the Alabama law in that it allows employees who own valid handgun permits to store firearms in their vehicles, even if the vehicles are parked on employer premises. Like the Alabama law, the Tennessee law mandates that the firearm be out of plain sight and in a locked vehicle. Also like the Alabama law, the Tennessee law immunizes employers from civil liability for injury or harm that occurs due to the lawful storage or possession of firearms under this section. However, the Tennessee Attorney General recently published an opinion stating that this law does not prevent employers from terminating an employee on the sole grounds that the employee possesses a firearm, even if the employee is in compliance with the Safe Commute Act. The Attorney General found that this law merely decriminalizes the storage of such firearms, and it does not change Tennessee’s employment at-will policies.
By July 1, 2013 and August 1, 2013, employers located in Tennessee and Alabama respectively, should review their employment policies to ensure compliance with the new legislation. If you have any questions about these issues, be sure to contact your employment counsel at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP.