Friday, February 22, 2013

Guns in the Workplace -- A Violation of the General Duty Clause

As a young boy growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah, it was not uncommon to see many trucks in town fitted with a gun rack and sporting a rifle or two.  As I recall, I'm not even sure we always locked our cars.  Hunting is common in Utah and thus seeing guns displayed, even in the city, was not disconcerting. 

The landscape has dramatically changed since the early 60s.  Because of the many horrific criminal activities that have recently occurred, many in our society would be fearful to see a weapon in a vehicle or on a person in a place other than the gun range or hunting grounds. 

Gun control will be part of our country's political debate during the months to come.  Regardless of the outcome, HR professionals will be attempting to fashion solutions in their states to prevent the carrying and use of guns in the workplace. 

In most states an employer can prohibit employees from bringing weapons into the workplace.  Some states, however, prohibit an employer from prohibiting an employee from bringing a gun into the workplace provided it remains in a locked car. 

Gun control advocates challenged these "parking lot" rules.  However, in Ramsey Winch, Inc. v. Henry, 555 F.3d 1199 (10th Cir. 2009), the court upheld the parking lot rule.  Gun control advocates challenged the law claiming that the federal OSHA Act's general duty clause preempted state law parking lot rule.  The court concluded that the general duty clause does not preempt a state law permitting the carrying of guns into the workplace in a locked car. 

No such parking lot rule exists in California.  Thus, employers are free to prohibit employees from transporting guns into the workplace, even if those guns are stored in locked vehicles.  Does the general duty clause of Cal/OSHA or of the federal OSHA Act also compel employers to mandate such rules?  Could the state or feds issue rules pursuant to OSHA preventing the transportation of guns into a workplace? 

Perhaps these types of questions will be part of the gun control debate. 

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