The State of Wisconsin recently signed legislation into law becoming the 49th state that allows its citizens the right to carry a concealed weapon. The purpose of this article is to summarize aspects of the law that related to possession of firearms in the workplace and the potential liabilities associated with the new law.
Not surprisingly, employers are concerned how this new law will affect their ability to regulate the presence of firearms in the workplace. Employers will need to strike a careful balance between their own policies regarding possession of firearms in the workplace and the new law allowing citizens the right to carry concealed weapons.
The new law, which allows application for concealed carry permits on November 1, 2011, raises a number of questions that will likely be resolved through litigation and court decisions.
Employers can prohibit employees from carrying concealed weapons in the course of the employee’s employment. Employers cannot, however, prohibit employees from carrying, or storing, a concealed weapon in the employees own vehicle, even if the vehicle is used in the course of employment. It is unclear if an employer can prohibit employees from carrying concealed weapons in company owned vehicles, but the wording of the law, with respect to “course of employment” and fact the vehicle is owned and controlled by the employer, seem to indicate such a prohibition is permitted.
More importantly, the law limits the liability of employers who comply with the new concealed carry law. Employers who allow employees to carry concealed weapons during the course of employment, including into the workplace, cannot be held liable for firearm related incidents that occur in the workplace. However, employers who prohibit concealed weapons from being brought into the workplace or who prohibit concealed carry during the course of employment may be held liable for firearms related incidents that occur in the workplace or during the course of employment. The law places the burden of detecting and enforcing such rules on the employer and holds them liable for allowing concealed weapons to be brought into the workplace where they are prohibited. It places a duty on employers to ensure rules prohibiting concealed carry in the workplace are effective.
Case law will much more accurately define the context in which employers may be held liable for firearms incidents in the workplace, but the law does appear to be quite clear in protecting employers from liability when workplace rules do not prohibit concealed carry during the course of employment.
Prior to passage of the Wisconsin law, 48 states passed concealed carry provisions into law and have largely avoided the tragic consequences of firearms related incidents in the workplace. The escalating gun violence in Chicago, Illinois, the only state in the country with no conceal carry law, proves that the absence of concealed carry doesn’t guarantee persons from carrying out violent acts against others in the workplace or in public.
Because this is a new law, and because of the potential liabilities associated with prohibiting firearms in the workplace, we strongly recommend employers in Wisconsin consult an attorney who specializes in labor law in preparing for this new legislation, especially for employers who will opt to prohibit concealed carry in the workplace or in the course of employment.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is responsible for administering and enforcing the new concealed carry law. They have published the following FAQ to explain aspects of the new law:http://www.doj.state.wi.us/dles/cib/ConcealedCarry/ccw_frequently_asked_questions.pdf