Don't Be Trigger Happy: Law Prohibits Employee Discipline for Storing Firearms in Vehicle
You may recall that in 2013, Governor Haslam signed into law “Guns in Trunks,” which allowed Tennesseans with valid handgun carry permits to store and transport firearms and ammunition in their privately owned vehicle while on public or private property, subject to certain exceptions, such as areas otherwise prohibited by federal law, i.e., school zones, or in single-family dwellings. When the law first went into effect, a key concern for me was whether the statute would be interpreted to permit employer’s to continue to terminate employees in violation of a “no guns on company property” policy. As of April 6, 2015, the answer is officially “No.”
On April 6, 2015, Governor Haslam signed into law a provision that adds to the protections previously provided by “Guns in Trunks.” Under the new provision, Tennessee law prohibits employers from terminating employees solely because they have a firearm or firearm ammunition stored in their vehicles while the vehicle is parked on the employer’s property. In other words, a company policy against firearms in cars is no longer a reason for termination so long as the employee has a valid carry permit.
If an employee is improperly disciplined or terminated in violation of “Guns in Trunks,” then that individual may, under the new provision, file a civil action against their employer. The burden will be on the employee to prove that the adverse employment action was motivated solely by the transportation or storage of the firearm in the employee’s vehicle while on company property. If successful, employees are entitled to remedies including damages, attorney's fees, and injunctive relief. Punitive damages, i.e., damages solely intended to punish the offending employer, are not allowed under the law.
If you have a policy prohibiting firearm storage in vehicles on company property, what do you do?
First, change your policy to comply with the law. Second, train supervisors on this change and the proper application. This will ensure that supervisors do not continue to apply a no longer permissible prohibition. Third, remember what you can do - an employer can still discipline or terminate employees for possessing firearms on company property outside of the employee’s vehicle. Additionally, employers are free to discipline or terminate employees who do not have a valid carry permit. Employers may also still prohibit guns in company vehicles.
If you need help changing your policy and effectuating the proper training, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will be ready, with guns blazing.