Q&A with Nathan Whatley
State employers have flexibility
to ban, control firearms at work
Q: The number of applications for handgun carry licenses is at record levels, with twice as many applications being received by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation in January as in January 2012. How have employers responded to this increased interest in defensive carry?
A: When Oklahoma's open carry law first went into effect in November, many employers quickly instituted or updated policies to ban weapons in the workplace, primarily because of liability concerns. More recently, though — as mass shootings in schools and traditional workplaces have made the news — more and more employers have been calling our lawyers to rethink their policies over concerns of being a victim zone in the event something tragic were to happen. Specifically, they are asking how they can allow weapons in a responsible way.
Q: Is there a standard policy employers are adopting to allow some weapons in the workplace?
A: No. There really is no one-size-fits-all approach to banning or allowing weapons. Employers have to consider the unique elements of their industry, their workplace and their workforce when weighing the risks and liabilities. Fortunately, the current law provides employers with a great deal of latitude on crafting their own workplace weapons policies. As with any new law, though, there are still a lot of unknowns as to how all this will play out, if and when something goes wrong in the workplace.
Q: Can you share some of the specific questions employers who are considering a policy that allows weapons have been asking?
A: Many of the questions focus on how much control an employer can exercise if it decides not to completely ban firearms from the workplace. This is where Oklahoma's handgun licensing laws provide the flexibility mentioned above. The statute allows employers not only the right to prohibit firearms on their premises, but also to control the possession of weapons there. This means an employer can ban weapons in some of their facilities but not others, or allow some employees to carry but not others. An employer can allow concealed carry but not open carry, or can limit the ability to carry to employees who have undergone specific training. An employer retains the right to rescind that permission to carry on its premises at any time, for any reason. Similarly, a business can prohibit customers from carrying weapons, but still allow employees to carry, or allow customers to carry while restricting employees from carrying firearms. Employers also can set rules for where and how weapons may be kept on its premises.
Q: Is there anywhere employers can obtain additional information on this topic?
A: Yes. A free webinar presentation on Weighing Workplace Weapons Policies is scheduled for noon March 6. For more information, or to register, go to www.employerlinc.com.
PAULA BURKES, BUSINESS WRITER