Concealed Carry in the Workplace: A Question of Risk Versus Reward
No matter how you interpret the Second Amendment, there are few, if any, hot button issues that raise more passion and stoke the fires of liberty infringed like the right to bear arms. Many have called for increased gun control, to include a ban on assault style rifles, universal background checks, and a national firearms registry. Others advocate for fewer restrictions on law-abiding firearm owners’ ability to carry concealed firearms in the workplace and on public property. Their argument is that the presence of law-abiding gun owners may prevent or interrupt an act of violence, thereby averting mass casualties and saving lives. The issue has been, and remains, a polarizing and divisive force throughout the nation.
As workplace violence escalates both in numbers of occurrences and severity, employers face the real dilemma of how to protect the workplace without turning the office, factory, or warehouse into an impregnable fortress. Regardless of our individual beliefs on such a sensitive topic, employers must objectively evaluate their position with regard to firearms soberly, responsibly, and comprehensively, while prioritizing safety, risk management, and basic constitutional concerns.
Each state’s laws are different, so we limited our research to North Carolina. As always, our standard warning applies. We are security experts, not legal experts. Please check with legal counsel about your specific situation.
North Carolina Law
This document primarily addresses the possession of handguns in the workplace pursuant to a valid concealed carry permit authorized by NCGS 14-415.11. The process for obtaining a concealed carry permit and lawfully carrying a concealed handgun is clear and mostly unambiguous. However, there are limitations on where people can carry handguns even with a permit.
The most applicable limitation with regard to private employers would be the private property provision under NCGS 14-415.11(c)(8):
A permit does not authorize a person to carry a concealed handgun on any private premises where notice that carrying a concealed handgun is prohibited by the posting of a conspicuous notice or statement by the person in legal possession or control of the premises.
Consumption of alcohol and use of controlled substances can also invalidate any permit and make it unlawful to possess a concealed handgun. Finally, there are specific requirements for permit holders when they come into contact with law enforcement.
Private Premises Considerations
With respect to the private premises or private property limitation mentioned previously, North Carolina law recognizes that most workplaces will fall into this category. The law grants broad authority to employers and property owners to prohibit firearms and weapons in the workplace. Per state statute, conspicuous notice is a key element of banning concealed handguns on private property. Signage and other types of posted notifications are the accepted standard.
However, there are no requirements relating to contents, wording, size of sign, placement locations, or similar attributes. Note that the statute also allows for verbal notification by a person in legal possession or control of the premises. It can be one form or the other, and there is no legal requirement for property owners to both post and state the message. (Read more about the requirements here.)
Many states have enacted “parking lot” laws that prohibit or discourage employers from restricting firearms stored in employee-owned vehicles while parked on the property of the employer. Although the details of these laws vary from state to state, they generally prevent employers from prohibiting employees from storing firearms in their personal vehicles when parked on the employer’s premises. However, current North Carolina law does not afford any such protection to permit holders who opt to store handguns in their vehicles while on the employer’s property. Therefore, employers can extend the ban to include employee-owned vehicles on the property of the employer. This is discretionary on the part of the employer.
North Carolina General Statutes do not entitle employees to secure firearms in their vehicles. Employers and property owners retain broad authority to prohibit the practice. In the absence of a policy clarifying the employer’s (or property owner’s) position on the possession of firearms, employees may be allowed to carry firearms consistent with federal and state law. As a result, if the employer (or property owner) wishes to impose any restrictions, it would be important to develop a policy addressing the possession of weapons, including firearms, on its premises, inclusive of parking lots. In conjunction with any policy prohibiting firearms and weapons, property owners should use conspicuous notice conditions as mentioned in the opening paragraph. Property owners typically accomplish this through signage, like the example shown.
North Carolina law makes an exception for permit holders storing handguns in their vehicles on educational or school property. Of course, this exception does not override other federal and state laws. For example, they do not allow a permit holder to carry a firearm in locations prohibited by federal law.
Vehicles owned and/or provided by the employer can be considered an extension of the employer’s property. This means that employers can prohibit firearms at all times regardless of whether the vehicle is on or off the employer’s property.
OSHA’s General Duty Clause
Pursuant to the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), federal law requires employers to provide a place of employment that is free of recognized hazards to employee safety and health. There is no outright affirmative duty to prevent workplace violence. Nonetheless, the General Duty Clause requires employers to take steps to reduce the risk of harm in some cases where it is sufficient to be a recognized hazard.
Employers must guard against “assuming a duty” to protect employees. Allowing employees to carry concealed handguns could be viewed in that manner under certain circumstances.
For example, an ad hoc group of concealed carry permit holders could be interpreted as a “security force”. If a workplace shooting occurs, assume that those employees permitted to carry firearms at work either fail to stop the shooter or injure another individual in the process. In that situation, an injured person may argue that the employer assumed a duty to protect them when it allowed employees to carry firearms at the workplace.
Employers must also be wary of creating or inducing a workplace hazard by allowing concealed carry by employees. If an employer allows concealed carry, and someone accidentally discharges a firearm and injures or kills a coworker, for example, the employer could be liable for multiple fines and penalties under OSHA.
From a civil liability standpoint, the employer could be sued in tort or under workers’ compensation laws by an injured employee, third party, or an injured person’s family.
An employer could conceivably even face criminal implications should something go awry.
There are a number of risks, hazards and perils associated with allowing employees to carry concealed handguns.
- An accidental discharge could result in injury or death to employee, co-workers, clients, or others.
- An intentional discharge to disrupt or stop a criminal event could result in injury or death to employee, co-workers, clients or persons other than the perpetrator(s). Even if the perpetrator is the actual person shot, there remains the issue of whether or not deadly force was justified under the law.
- There is a risk to the security of employees, customers, and others who may enter the workplace. There is also a risk to law enforcement and other first responders.
- In the event of an actual shooting incident, an armed employee could be mistaken for the perpetrator. This would compound the possible liability and multiply harm.
- Carelessness or irresponsibility on the part of the employee.
- Failing to properly secure a handgun in holster and allowing it to fall to the floor or other surface.
- Leaving a handgun unattended or unsecured.
- Restroom or other workplace area
- Company vehicle
- Client’s vehicle or property
- Restaurant or other public location
- Losing the handgun.
- Engaging in “cowboy” conduct involving displaying, brandishing or waving the handgun inappropriately.
- Allowing others to handle or hold the handgun.
- Engaging in opportunistic “target practice”.
There are a number of legal considerations that may raise liability issues for the employer.
- An accidental discharge that results in injury or death to employee, co-workers, clients or others could lead to multiple lawsuits.
- An intentional discharge to disrupt or stop a criminal event that results in injury or death to employee, co-workers, clients, or persons other than the perpetrator(s) could lead to multiple lawsuits.
- Liability insurance and worker’s compensation insurance are two areas of risk. Insurance rates could rise, or the policies cancelled if insurers deem the workplace too risky. Insurance may require the employer to cover an employee’s claim for injuries from a gun-related incident.
- The employer may be a tenant and not the actual property owner. If so, the property owners and/or property management can dictate any policies regarding firearms on the property.
- Allowing concealed carry could create a feeling of intimidation or unease by other employees toward concealed permit holders. Either real or perceived, these feelings can affect all levels of the employer’s hierarchy. An escalation to a hostile work environment is also a concern as well as an employer-induced hazard. This may also become an issue with clients or customers who are uncomfortable with handguns in the workplace.
- The handgun could be stolen from the employee’s workplace or company vehicle. The thief could later use the stolen handgun to commit a crime which results in injury or death to the victim. An avenue for a lawsuit may exist if a clear connection or nexus back to the employer exists.
- A lack of policies governing the safe and secure storage of concealed handguns would exacerbate this situation. Examples would include storage during restroom breaks or other activities where carrying a concealed firearm is not practical or safe.
- It also goes without saying that a person charged with securing the safety of a workplace should have proper training. Simply having a concealed carry permit is insufficient to show that a person knows how to safely secure a facility and/or protect others.
- The employer’s customers and clients may not permit or allow firearms under any circumstances upon their respective property or premises. This is especially an issue with property owned, controlled, or occupied by government entities. An employee with a concealed carry permit can jeopardize longstanding business relationships by inadvertently carrying a handgun onto prohibited property.
Active Shooter Dilemma
Arguably, there is perhaps only one undeniable justification to even consider allowing concealed carry in the workplace. What if an armed employee could interrupt or end an active shooter situation?
Employers must balance the likelihood of an active shooter against the seemingly higher odds of it never taking place. Employers must then consider all the daily opportunities for accidents with armed employees on the premises and in the field.
Finally, employers must take into account that insurers may consider the employer too risky. They may no longer provide liability coverage or substantially increase premiums. In the end, for most employers, allowing concealed carry in the workplace will not pass the risk versus reward test.
No employer should infringe upon the constitutional rights of an employee. Employers need to be respectful of their employees’ opinions with regard to concealed handguns in the workplace. However, the right to bear arms is not usually protected in the private sector. Therefore, employers have broad authority to impose restrictions on firearms in the workplace, including parking lots. Absent North Carolina law to the contrary, these restrictions would, and should, include concealed carry permit holders.