In response to the growing number of tragic mass shootings, most recently in Newtown, Connecticut, federal, state and local governments continue grappling with how to address issues of gun control.  Given these arising issues, employers must also be cognizant of their duty to protect employees, clients and customers while still being mindful of individual employee rights.  In 2010, the U.S. Department of Labor reported 16,910 non-fatal assaults and violent attacks occurring at private workplaces.  Such attacks lead to: (1) physical and psychological harm; (2) lost property, productivity and profits; (3) workers’ compensation claims; and (4) increased litigation.  Most often to combat these attacks, employers implement policies prohibiting weapons in the workplace.

Georgia, along with a small minority of states, provides a “Parking Lot Law” permitting employees and invited guests, such as customers and clients, to carry licensed firearms onto an employer’s property so long as the firearm is locked out of sight in the individual’s privately owned vehicle.  O.C.G.A. § 16-11-135.  Although Georgia does not define “firearms” in this particular statute, other statutes define firearm to include any rifle, shotgun, pistol or similar device.  O.C.G.A. § 16-8-12(a)(6)(A)(iii).  Georgia’s Parking Lot Law also prohibits employers from conducting searches of employees’ automobiles or discriminating against employees for exercising their rights under the statute.

Georgia’s Parking Lot Law does not completely abrogate an employer’s authority to regulate gun control on its premises.  Specifically, an employer may conduct searches in a secure parking area restricted from general public access provided that any search is applicable to all vehicles and conducted on a uniform and frequent basis.  Additionally, nothing in the statute prohibits employers from regulating, or outright banning, possession of firearms outside of the individual’s privately owned car.

Employers should be alert to warning signs of workplace violence while still being respectful of permissible individual employee rights and complying with Georgia’s Parking Lot Law.  Employers should implement, and consistently apply, a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence requiring employees to report any threats or comments suggesting suspicious behavior, in addition to other complaint and grievance reporting policies.  Employers should also make their existing weapons policy clear prohibiting any firearms and other such weapons except as authorized by law.  In consistently applying these policies, employers should take appropriate disciplinary action if any employee violates any of them.  Recognizing these issues will help employers protect their workforce, their customers and client base.