How Georgia's 'Bring your gun to work' law affects employers

On May 14, Governor Sonny Perdue signed what some refer to as the state's "bring your gun to work" legislation. Known officially as the Business Security and Employee Privacy Act, the law appears to allow employees to bring concealed weapons onto their employer's property as long as they store them out of sight in a locked "trunk, glove box, or other enclosed compartment or area within a motor vehicle." Furthermore, the law prohibits employers from searching an employee's or invited guest's motor vehicle parked on their parking lots.

Let's take a closer look at the legislation.

The law provides many protections for employers. The main exception, Section 7(k), allows you, regardless of whether you own the land on which you operate or lease it, to ban guns on your property, including parking lots, if you choose. In essence, this exception completely dilutes the effect of the law and allows you to continue to ban weapons at work. In fact, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce even considered the legislation a victory for employers solely based on Section 7(k).

The law contains other exceptions that protect employers. For example, you can authorize law enforcement personnel to search vehicles you own and to conduct searches in any other situation in which a reasonable person would believe the search of a locked vehicle is "necessary to prevent an immediate threat to human health, life, (and) safety." Searches by law enforcement officers using a search warrant or warrantless searches based on probable cause are also still permitted under the new law.

Additionally, you may ban employees from company property if they have been disciplined for bringing concealed weapons to work. Finally, the law doesn't apply to penal institutions, public gatherings, and places where firearms are prohibited by federal law.

But while you can continue to ban guns on your premises, it's still important to write your policies properly and communicate them to employees. For instance, you should clearly articulate your gun policies and place them where employees will have easy access to them (e.g., in an employee handbook).

It may also be prudent to have a general policy banning violence in the workplace. Another possibility is to make it mandatory for employees to report to management when coworkers are engaging in potentially violent activities, such as bringing guns to work. Those policies will go a long way toward making your premises safer because they will prohibit all forms of violent activities by employees and make it easier to detect such activities.

So what? The "bring your gun to work" statute was intended to appease the gun lobby, but the law's myriad exceptions make it basically inconsequential for employers. Although the law's final form was a victory for employers, you must still be careful to ensure that you have effective and enforceable policies against guns in your workplace. Your policies must be clear, broad enough to cover unexpected situations, and effectively communicated to employees.

Copyright 2008 M.Lee Smith Publishers LLC