Labor & Employment Law I MARCH 20, 2014

Workplace Safety: An Employer's Right Under Michigan Law to Prevent Employees from Bringing Concealed Pistols into the Workplace

According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2006 to 2010, an average of 551 workers per year were killed as a result of work-related homicides.  Seventy-eight percent of these homicides in 2010 occurred from shootings.  Some of these shootings could have been prevented if the employer had implemented a policy banning firearms in the workplace.

The Michigan Constitution provides that “[e]very person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state.”  This is not an absolute right, however.  Based upon Michigan statutes, concealed pistols are not allowed on certain premises in Michigan.  In addition, if an employer chooses to prohibit concealed pistols in the workplace, the employer may be legally entitled to do so.

All persons in Michigan may purchase, carry, possess, or transport pistols if they first obtain a license.  Under Michigan law an employer “shall not prohibit an employee from . . . (a) [a]pplying for or receiving a license to carry a concealed pistol” or “(b) [c]arrying a concealed pistol in compliance with a license issued under [the firearms act].”  However, the 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.”  Unfortunately, the statute does not define what “in the course of his or her employment.”
Thus it is clear: employers may lawfully bar employees from carrying concealed pistols inside the employer’s building.  However, as it relates to adjacent premises to the employer’s building (e.g., the employer’s parking lot) it is unclear what limitations an employer may or may not proscribe.  Since the firearm laws do not define what “in the course of his or her employment” means as it relates to the employer’s ability to bar concealed pistols, this leaves open for interpretation the extent in which an employer may limit an employee from carrying a concealed pistol in other areas of the workplace, such as a parking lot.
In other contexts, Michigan case law provides meaningful guidance for interpreting “in the course of his or her employment.”  In the context of workers’ compensation law, “in the course of employment” means “while the workman is doing the duty which he is employed to perform.”  In other words, it is something that “occurs as a circumstance of or incident to the employment relationship.”  This extends to injuries occurring in an employer’s parking lot where the parking lot is owned, leased or maintained by the employer.  This principle is similar in other areas of Michigan law.
Drawing from Michigan case law interpreting “in the course of employment,” an employer’s right to prohibit an employee from brining a concealed pistol in the workplace depends on a fact specific analysis.  Whether an employee is acting “in the course of employment” turns on the specific job and the employee’s job duties.  In many situations, an employer’s right to prohibit the employee from carrying a concealed pistol extends to the employee’s vehicle in the parking lot, as well as other areas off the employer’s premises.
Employers can take multiple steps to ensure a pistol-free workplace in Michigan.  Employers can implement policies and procedures in employee handbooks/guides to inform employees that the workplace is a pistol-free zone.  In addition, employers can post signs in the workplace, including the parking lot, stating that pistols are not allowed on the employer’s property.  The signs should contain: (i) clear and unambiguous language that the covered area is a pistol-free area; (ii) a graphic depicting the international slash symbol with a pistol in the middle, signifying the prohibition of pistols in the covered area; and (iii) language stating that the prohibition is subject and pursuant to Michigan firearm laws.
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