Thomas A. Robinson on Florida Guns in the Workplace Act

Thomas A. Robinson on Florida Guns in the Workplace Act

It is axiomatic that the number of workplace violence incidents has increased dramatically during the past few decades.  As part of their response to this escalation of violence, many employers have adopted policies that prohibit employees and others from bringing guns and other weapons onto the employer’s property.  Typically, these employer restrictions not only prohibit the possession of firearms (and other weapons) within the actual workplace premises; they prohibit them in the employer’s parking lots.

Since 2004, a handful of states have passed legislation allowing employees (and other permitted invitees) to keep guns locked in private vehicles in the employer’s parking lot, regardless of the employer’s rules to the contrary.  Sometimes referred to—particularly by gun opponents—as “forced entry” laws, because they force employers to allow guns on their property, with or without employer consent, this sort of legislation is turning state houses into important battlegrounds, pitting those who argue that the right to keep a gun locked in one’s private vehicle is protected by the Second Amendment against others who contend that to require an employer to tolerate weapons against its will is an impermissible deprivation of its property rights. 

In April 2008 the Florida Governor signed House Bill 503, which essentially allows employees to take loaded guns to work if the guns are locked within the gun owner’s private vehicle in the employer’s parking lot. This commentary analyzes this law, places it within the context of other similar state gun legislation, examines a recent decision by an Oklahoma federal district court that declared that the “general duty clause” contained in the Occupational Safety and Health Act preempts that state’s forced entry law and prevents its enforcement, and observes that the battle over guns in the workplace may be determined as much by OSHA rather than resolution of conflicting constitutional issues.

Robinson concludes that employers seem caught in the crosshairs, potentially required by federal mandate not only to monitor safety conditions within the actual work place, but also within nearby parking lots and employee vehicles.

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