Question: I own a small business, and an employee recently informed me that she brings her gun to work with a valid concealed carry permit. She seems like a responsible gun owner, but I am uncomfortable with a gun in my business. Our employee handbook does not mention guns. Can I prohibit an otherwise legal gun from my workplace? If I let her carry at work, do I need to inform her co-workers?
Answer: This is an issue that many business owners and HR professionals struggle with. In California the law is relatively straightforward, but the practical concerns are challenging. You likely have employees with vastly divergent and passionate opinions regarding whether guns should be permitted at work, whether they make the workplace safer, and whether co-workers should be informed.
Keep in mind that employers are required to provide a safe workplace for all employees. It can be argued that guns in the workplace make the workplace safer, and the opposing argument is also viable. It is important for each business owner to adopt a policy that expressly prohibits or permits weapons at work, so the rules and expectations are clear.
If there is no workplace policy prohibiting weapons at work, for private businesses on private property the default rule allows any employee to carry a loaded firearm, if otherwise legally permitted (e.g. the owner is of legal age, and is not precluded due to prior felony convictions). There are numerous exceptions, and if your business is located in an area where possession of firearms is otherwise prohibited under local or federal law, that prohibition applies. Other exclusions include carrying guns at schools, during picketing activities, or at a bar.
Because you do not have a policy prohibiting guns at work and you are uncomfortable with your employee legally carrying a gun to work, you should consider instituting a weapon possession policy as part of a broader safety policy. Employers are permitted to ban all weapons from the workplace, including guns. Your safety policy should prohibit workplace violence and the possession or distribution of drugs or alcohol. Most companies follow Johnny Cash’s admonition, “And he heard again his mother’s words, don’t take your guns to town son, leave your guns at home” and ban the possession or distribution of weapons, explosives and firearms in their safety policies.
Evaluating firearm policies also provides an opportunity to review your business’ security policies and protocols and your company’s emergency response and evacuation plans.
If you are implementing a ban on weapons, also consider policies designed to enforce the ban, including a legally compliant policy permitting the search of an employee, their desk, locker and/or personal belongings at the worksite. Also consider whether to extend the ban to cars on company property, and implementing a policy permitting the search of such vehicles.
If you decide to permit legal firearms on company property, under current law you do not have an obligation to inform employees of a co-worker’s decision to carry. However, you should carefully consider how other employees would react to discovering it on their own. With broad legal discretion employers should adopt safety and weapon policies that promote a safe workplace, considering the inherent security risks of their business, the impact on employee safety, and the employer’s risk assessment.