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Authority grows on concealed weapons in the workplace

Arnstein & Lehr attorney Jesse R. Dill

Jesse R. Dill

In light of recent events, many employers are more concerned than ever over violence entering the workplace. Policies and security measures are being examined and highly scrutinized. Last month I wrote about a Western District of Kentucky decision that found an employee was not protected by Kentucky law when he pulled a firearm from his vehicle to show a security guard. An opinion followed shortly thereafter out of the Western District of Michigan that may also help employers interpret their state’s concealed carry laws.

In Hoven v. Walgreen Co., 12CV222 (W.D. Mich Dec. 4, 2012), an employee obtained a Michigan Concealed Pistol License and began carrying a handgun in his pocket at work. During an attempted robbery of the store he worked at, the employee drew his weapon and used it, as he described, to defend himself and his co-workers. The employer later discharged the employee for his actions under its “non-escalation” policy.

The Western District of Michigan court found the employee could not maintain his claims that the termination violated public policy in Michigan. This cause of action might otherwise be known as a wrongful discharge claim for employers in other states. Among the sources of public policy argued by the employee, one was Michigan’s concealed carry law. As noted by the court, however, that law provides, “This [law] does not prohibit an employer from prohibiting an employee from carrying a concealed pistol in the course of his or her employment with that employer.” Referring to this provision, the court found that Michigan public policy was just the opposite of what the employee claimed; the public policy affirmed a private employer’s ability to limit handguns in the workplace. Thus, the employee could not provide a basis in public policy that prohibited his discharge.

This case again shows that courts are unlikely to liberally interpret laws governing weapons in the workplace to protect employees from adverse employment decisions. Courts to date seem to favor strictly construing the law to determine whether a decision to terminate employment violates any weapons-carrying statute. Although this opinion is merely persuasive authority for many employers, as opposed to controlling authority, and the specific provisions of your state’s law may differ, it can still be useful. It may help employers get an idea of how future courts may rule on similar issues concerning employment policies and discipline or discharge decisions when concealed weapons are at issue. These references may help your company decide how to write a policy or how to handle disciplinary matters.