Employers must prepare now for concealed carry in the workplace

Wisconsin will soon become the 49th state to allow individuals to carry concealed weapons. Both the State Senate and Assembly have now passed legislation, which impacts whether and how employers and businesses can prohibit weapons at work and on their property. The bill awaits Gov. Scott Walker’s expected signature.

How is the law changed regarding concealed weapons?

Previously, Wisconsin law generally prohibited carrying concealed weapons in public. Under the new legislation, residents 21 years and older can carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the state, with only a few limited exceptions. Concealed weapons will still be banned in schools, police stations, sheriff’s offices, prisons or jails, courthouses, and government offices that have electronic screening devices and airports (but only beyond security checkpoints).

The state will now issue licenses to carry concealed weapons, subject to a background check. Anyone who applies must be issued a license if at least 21 years old and can only be denied if they are prohibited from carrying a gun by state law (typically if they are a convicted felon), federal law or if they are not a resident of the State.

Time to review your workplace weapons and violence policies

With the new legislation, employers can still prohibit their employees from carrying weapons (concealed or otherwise) while at work, both at the employer’s place of business and if the employee works off-site. However, employers cannot prohibit employees from carrying or storing a weapon in their own motor vehicle, even if the vehicle is used by the employee during work or is parked in the employer’s parking lot.

Unlike concealed carry laws in several other states, the Wisconsin law does not specifically address how employees may store weapons in their own vehicles. Thus, Wisconsin employers could consider imposing reasonable restrictions on how weapons are stored in employees’ vehicles: for example, requiring employees to keep weapons stored out of sight and in a secure location (such as in the trunk of a car or in a locked glove compartment).

The law provides an unusual incentive to employers that permit their employees to carry concealed weapons at work in that an employer that does not prohibit its employees from carrying a concealed weapon is given immunity from lawsuits for any liability arising from that policy decision. Employers will need to consider the statute’s invitation to permit concealed weapons in exchange for legal immunity, weigh what benefits they may gain against the associated risks with permitting weapons and make the right decision for their own specific workplace and business.

Employers of all sizes are affected; there is no minimum number of employees to trigger coverage under the law.

What if federal law prohibits weapons at your business?

Certain industries and businesses (such as chemical, nuclear, defense contractors, maritime transportation) may be required by federal law to maintain certain levels of security, which may include gun-free workplaces. When federal law clearly prohibits weapons in a facility or site, the new Wisconsin law will be pre-empted and superseded.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs

Businesses can still prohibit other persons (visitors, customers, etc.) from carrying weapons on their premises, including in parking lots, unlike employees. Under the law, businesses that want to ban weapons should post signs in prominent places near all of the entrances and where persons entering the property or building can be expected to see the sign. The legislation requires that signs banning weapons be no less than 5×7 inches in order for a person to be considered on notice of a ban and therefore, subject to criminal trespass laws.

Next steps

Once the legislation is signed into law, the portions regarding workplace restrictions will go into effect on the first day of the fourth month after it is published, which means it could be effective by early October 2011. Employers should use that time to decide how and whether to modify workplace policies that prohibit weapons in the workplace as well as determine whether federal law supersedes the new Wisconsin law for their business. Employers will want to review their pre-employment background check procedures and security measures to address the risk of violence with the presence of weapons on company property. 

Businesses of all kinds that will want to implement or continue a weapons ban should develop signs informing the public of the ban and determine where to place signs.

Mike Aldana is an attorney at Quarles & Brady LLP in Milwaukee.

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