Following the April 3, 2018 YouTube workplace violence tragedy, many news sources reported that there were 500 workplace homicides in 2016, the most recent workplace homicide statistic from the Bureau of Labor Statistic. The Bureau of Labor report, found here, noted this was “an increase of 83 cases from 2015” and that the “2016 total was the highest [number of workplace homicides] since 2010.” The report also revealed that 409 (82 percent) were homicides to men and 91 (18 percent) were homicides to women.” Further, “homicides represented 24 percent of fatal occupational injuries to women in 2016 compared with 9 percent of fatal occupational injuries to men.”
Gun-related tragedies are foremost on our minds due to the number of mass shooting tragedies occurring in our schools, at music events, in certain areas of the country, as well as other gun-related deaths. In this age of perceived increased gun violence, many employers who previously prohibited concealed weapons in the workplace are taking a different view. Employers are also providing active shooter training for their employees, described here. Active shooter training proposes that employees run and escape if possible, hide if escape is not possible, and fight as an absolute last resort. This training invariably leads to the consideration of permitting employees with concealed weapons permits to bring their firearms into the workplace. Some employers I speak with are now encouraging it, approving it, or remaining silent on the issue rather than prohibiting it. While any of us can identify with the vulnerability victims in such situations must feel and the desire to be equipped to fight back if necessary, I become very concerned when employers either affirmatively or passively permit concealed weapons in the workplace.
An employer who permits employees to bring concealable weapons on premises or in company vehicles must understand that liability to the company for any third party harmed by the employee could occur. Specifically, just as an employer can be liable for the negligence of its employees for accidents caused by their driving if the employer knew or should have known that the employee had poor driving habits, an employer may also be liable for any injury caused to another person or property due to use of the firearm while performing company duties or in a company vehicle.
Those employers either permitting guns on site at work or not prohibiting them on site will have to anticipate that any response to an active shooter may result in unintentional harm to others in the vicinity. Furthermore, an employee may perceive a threat where there is none and respond thusly. Finally, there is always the concern that tensions at work escalate to the point of an employee using a gun to address problems at work.
Injury at work is covered by worker’s compensation so this could impact those claims, and third party liability is pursuant to general negligence tort law which carries actual, consequential and sometimes punitive damages, risking exposure of large monetary verdicts for any negligence findings. Negligence in this situation could include having no policy prohibiting weapons on site at the workplace, or actual or constructive knowledge that an employee carries a weapon on company premises, and any evidence that any employee has a temper or is quick to become violent. In other words, it may be easy to convince a jury that the employer was negligent absent a prohibition of weapons on company property and/or responding to any knowledge that an employee is carrying while on company property or in company vehicles. Also, a policy that doesn’t prohibit carrying weapons to work may result in denial of any insurance coverage both under your worker’s compensation and/or commercial general liability policies.
In summary, employers should proceed cautiously when considering how they will address the issue of weapons in their workplace, thoroughly considering all of the issues associated with such a decision.