By Charles Carpenter
Published in the November 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
Editor’s Note: In addition to presenting at The TFM Forum and The TFM Show this past June, Charles Carpenter, a facilities manager based in Austin, TX, has contributed to Today’s Facility Manager several times. With this issue, he takes the reins of this column from long time FM Frequency contributor Jeff Crane.
While Johnny Cash was known for singing the lyrics, “Don’t take your guns to town son. Leave your guns at home, Bill,” several state legislatures have facility managers (fms) saying the same thing. This message would be based on the growing number of bills that allow employees to possess firearms or ammunition on company property, despite existing policies of employers or building owners.
On March 26, 2009, the Texas Senate unanimously passed SB 730 (companion to HB 1301), relating to an employee’s transportation and storage of certain firearms or ammunition while on certain property owned or controlled by the employee’s employer. Some companies (DuPont and Southwest Airlines, for instance) already have policies in place that allow employees to bring firearms onto their property. However, this bill (and others like it) would remove the decision from the employer’s domain, regardless if the business was a call center or a dynamite factory. (As an aside, the Texas law died in the House when the bill did not come for a vote before the legislature adjourned for the year.)
Several states have already passed different forms of the “guns at work” law, but not without a fight. Because of the vague nature of the OSHA general duty clause, the Tenth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling on this matter in Oklahoma. While the case makes its way through the appeals process, Oklahomans will be permitted to keep firearms in locked vehicles parked on company property. More than likely, this case will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even though laws like the one passed in Oklahoma require employees to keep firearms locked in glove compartments or trunks, fms have serious misgivings about safety issues. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence notes that car burglaries are a common source of guns on the black market (based on a study where 28% of guns reported stolen were taken from parked cars). So even if a firearm is locked away, it can still be accessed by someone who breaks into the vehicle. (Note: The Texas law offered alternative parking areas for employees with firearms in their vehicles, but if anything, that would draw more attention to those employees with firearms.)
To complicate matters further, guns at work bills tend to overlook the fact that the current workplace often consists of multiple business environments. For example, one company could actually require employees to carry firearms (due to the nature of its business); but for another business in the same building, weapons would be off limits or even unthinkable. Meanwhile, both businesses would share the same parking lot.
Historically, employers are considered liable for the welfare of employees while on company property. By allowing the transportation and storage of guns on property, such legislation would burden companies with the expense of mitigating the risks that could potentially be created by these firearms. Furthermore, insurance premiums to protect employers from lawsuits resulting from gun related incidents would surely rise. If an altercation did take place, few facilities would be able to avoid a lawsuit.
Should any of the pending guns at work laws go into effect, employers would be faced with several additional issues. Under HIPPA (and other privacy laws), employers would not have access to relevant information from gun permit issuing authorities. Therefore, it would be impossible for the employer to know which employees would be carrying guns and what kinds of guns—or how many (a hunting rifle? 11 shotguns? 17 pistols?)—would be stored in vehicles.
In 2005, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that showed the risk of being killed at work was substantially higher in workplaces that allowed employees to keep guns on premises. The study also found workplaces were five to seven times more likely to be the site of a homicide relative to those where all weapons were prohibited. This article was not an opinion paper but peer reviewed, academic research. In 2008, after a Kentucky law was passed that allowed employees to keep guns in glove compartments while a work, one man killed five co-workers and himself after an argument. He retrieved the weapon from his vehicle in the parking lot.
With regard to firearms, state legislatures would do better to focus more on bigger issues (such as domestic violence—the fasting growing workplace violence concern) when weighing the consequences of guns at work policies. For instance, a person who has obtained a restraining order and is licensed to carry a concealed handgun might be permitted to do so. Even certified hunters could store weapons in their vehicles during appropriate seasons.
To assist fms, the IFMA Foundation has published Violence in the Workplace: The Role of the Facility Manager. The publication was made possible through contributions donated in memory of W. David Beverly, husband of IFMA Vice President Linda Beverly and victim of a workplace violence shooting that took place at Houston’s Johnson Space Center in April 2007.
Ultimately, the courts may decide that firearms on company property could create numerous complications—both for employers and members of the law enforcement community. After all, the last thing officers need during a dire workplace situation is to struggle over who is the perpetrator and who is the self designated Lone Ranger. Guns have a place in this society, but the workplace is not one of them.
Carpenter has worked in FM since 1995. He has published articles and spoken at conferences on a variety of facility related topics and is currently working on a Masters Degree at Texas State University, where his research thesis is entitled “The Effects of the Built Environment on Occupational Stress.” Contact him with questions, comments, or to see if your company may fit his upcoming research project. For past FM Frequency columns, visit this link.
To request a copy of the IFMA Foundation Workplace Violence publication, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Workplace Violence” in the subject of the e-mail. To discuss some of your personal experiences in real time, come to FacilityBlog!