Of all the difficulties U.S. employers face on a daily basis, none can compare to the grim and daunting task of advising an employee’s loved ones that their love one’s life was lost while at work in a violent incident. Just ask someone who has done it.

Not surprisingly, the likelihood for workplace violence to erupt increases exponentially when an agitated individual who seeks instant revenge has immediate access to a gun. Workplaces where guns are permitted are about five times as likely to experience a homicide as those where all weapons are prohibited, according to a study conducted by the University of Chapel Hill.

Will workplaces have to provide gun safes for employees? Several states have or are considering laws to permit workers to bring guns into their work parking lots. Many enterprises have policies against guns on their property.

States Enact Gun-Friendly Laws

Eliminating the “cooling off period” that the employee needs to rationalize his or her thoughts before deploying lethal actions is a recipe for disaster. Yet, ludicrous legislation that flies in the face of this wisdom and permits employees to bring guns onto company parking lots is spreading like wild fire.

The brash campaign being waged by the National Rifle Association (NRA) is based on the Second Amendment. Do we have the right to bear arms? Absolutely, just as we have a right to free speech. Yet, the first amendment does not extend to yelling fire (falsely) in a crowded theatre or making comments in the workplace that are offensive thus creating a hostile work environment.

The NRA is clashing with companies who understand the seriousness of workplace violence and their obligation to provide a safe work environment for their employees. ConocoPhillips and Williams, as two examples, are fighting a law in Oklahoma while the NRA is muscling through legislation in Minnesota, Utah, Wisconsin and Florida. With 57,000 employees in Florida and a policy against weapons on its premises, Disney could be the next company to suit up for battle. South Carolina and Alaska are considering similar versions as well. Ohio’s law was enacted without challenge.

The federal Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) dictates that companies have a duty to furnish a workplace free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. But guards who discover weapons as part of an entry search into the parking lot would have their hands tied according to some state and local legislation. Moreover, the legislation criminalizes companies by charging them with a third degree felony (punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine) for prohibiting firearms on company property.

Workplace violence is a leading recognized hazard in the American workplace, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Labor, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Center for Disease Control. Workplace violence can be avoided by training employers about early intervention and diffusion strategies, not by giving carte blanche to individuals with unknown skills and insufficient education in the safe handling of a firearm. Provisions in these laws need to be made to allow companies to prohibit the presence of weapons on their property for the protection of all who work or visit these sites.

While the effort to challenge these laws must continue, solutions must also be developed that will limit access to firearms while respecting the laws. These stop-gap measures call for the company to:
  • Develop tighter security plans.
  • Designate secure parking areas where guns in vehicles may be stored.
  • Develop protocols for prevention of firearms within the facility.
  • Educate and train security personnel at points of entry.
Challenges to the current statutes may go on for years, but in the meantime, enterprise security professionals and private industry must take extra precautions to provide a safe workplace environment for its employees now.

About The Authors

Jim Ellis and Bruce Ash are vice presidents of Risk Control Strategies, a threat management and risk assessment security consulting firm offering a variety of security solutions to Fortune 1000 corporations with special emphasis on workplace violence prevention, training and response programs. They can be reached at jellis@riskcontrolstrategies.com and bash@riskcontrolstrategies.com, respectively.