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John Pickering, Partner at Balch & Bingham

Last month (September 2016), the FBI ran just under two million background checks for people wanting to purchase guns in the United States. September also marked the 17th consecutive monthly record for U.S. gun purchases. Depending on your political views, these numbers may alarm or encourage you, but politics aside, consider this – some of these guns will probably be showing up in your office, particularly in a generally gun-friendly state like Alabama.

What’s a responsible employer to do? Ban all guns to assure the safety of your employees? Permit law-abiding employees to exercise their constitutional rights to protect themselves and their co-workers on the job? Alabama law actually gives employers the liberty to set their own policies in this context, for the most part. In Alabama, employers are free, but not required, to prohibit employees from bringing guns to work or carrying guns while on duty, even if the employee has a valid concealed carry permit.

However, the employer’s freedom ends where the employee’s begins – in the parking deck or lot. Employers may not ban the possession of a lawfully possessed gun or ammunition in the employee’s privately owned vehicle while that vehicle is in the parking area if the employee has a valid concealed carry permit. There are also special rules for long guns used for hunting, regardless of permit status, though they have many more qualifications. The employee with a long gun in the car is protected if the employee has a valid Alabama hunting license, the long gun is unloaded, the calendar says it’s hunting season, the employee has not been convicted of a crime of violence, a child sex offense, or domestic violence, and is not the subject of a domestic violence order, the employee doesn’t meet certain thresholds for mental illness and has no documented prior workplace incidents involving threats of violence or which resulted in injury, the vehicle isn’t violating any rules of the parking facility, and the ammunition is hidden from view or, if the vehicle is unattended, is locked safely away in a separate compartment or container within or affixed to the vehicle.

Concerned that an employee presents a risk of harm to himself or others? You may ask whether the employee has a gun, even a gun in his vehicle, and you may ask questions to verify that the employee meets the requirements stated above. But you cannot take adverse action against the employee solely for gun possession if the employee meets those requirements.

If an employer violates these standards, the employee can recover lost wages, benefits and compensation resulting from the violation. The statute balances the employer’s interest by protecting the employer (and property owner) with immunity from any claim against the employer based on an employee’s possession of a firearm on the employer’s property, possibly whether permitted or not. Employers also have no duty to inspect private vehicles or parking facilities.

Consider your gun policies carefully; your employees will be watching!

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