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A Policy For Guns In The Workplace

Most states now allow employees to carry concealed firearms or to store guns in cars on company property. Corporations have the right to deny all weapons on their property, but this may not be realistic in today's environment. Instead, companies should focus on employees who want to carry concealed guns in the workplace and ensure that they are responsible and capable enough to bear the responsibility. All employees will have a better sense of security if they believe that management has done their due diligence by ensuring the people who carry guns are not a threat to the company.

Companies should implement a comprehensive policy that looks at the issue holistically and addresses not only guns, but violence in the workplace. The first step is to develop a multidisciplinary team to frame the issue and develop appropriate policies. The team should include: HR representatives, legal, finance, IT, and security. The leader of the team should be personally selected by the CEO. When the CEO selects a representative and gives that person the authority to make decisions and develop policies, the CEO is signaling approval and a high level of support that is essential to the success of the policy. Additionally, the team may benefit from bringing in expert consultants to assist them in identifying and mitigating risk, and in developing policies or best practices that have been successful in other organizations.

How a corporation reacts to threats or toxic behavior is critical. Violent acts in the workplace are rarely random. Instead, they are the culmination of other acts or threats that have not properly been addressed. In many cases, a threat fails to rise to the level of a criminal threat and is disregarded by management. In some cases the threats are subtle or subjective and allow the person making the threat to argue that the other person took the comment in a wrong way. Management must respond to every perceived or real threat in the workplace no matter how subtle or specific the threat.

Violence at work is usually the end result of other factors that lead to the violent outbursts. Employee frustration with supervisors or managers who do not clearly articulate job tasks or responsibilities often leads to confusion and a decrease in job satisfaction. Supervisors or managers who have management styles that are considered toxic or negative and continually embarrass or reprimand employees in front of other employees or fail to administer discipline that is viewed as fair often leads to high levels of stress in the workplace. Addressing these issues is crucial to a safe workplace.

Policy Components

A firearms policy that allows employees to carry concealed guns in the workplace is no different than any other policy within a corporation and, as such, the policy is a direct reflection of the business. The first consideration is whether the policy meets the legal statues of the city and state in which the corporation resides. The policy must articulate that the corporation will not tolerate any threats or acts of violence in the workplace. The policy must also address the fact that the gun policy is part of the workplace violence prevention policy and should set out rules for reprimand or discipline. The policy must address a protocol for employees to address any concerns they may have or to report any threats or acts of violence in the workplace. The reporting protocol must have a confidentiality component to protect any employee who makes a report.

The policy should clearly state where guns are allowed and where they are prohibited. For example, many city or state laws allow employees to keep guns in their vehicles, so having a policy that clearly identifies this is necessary for any policy. If applicable, the policy should designate who may have a firearm in the workplace, such as a security officer may have a firearm designation whereas rank and file employees may be prohibited from carrying firearms on corporate property.

Employees who carry guns to work or leave them in a locked car in the parking lot should inform the security manager that they are doing so, specifically in states where guns in parking lots are authorized. The policy must address whether guns will be allowed in corporate vehicles or may be carried in the course of conducting corporate business away from corporate property. Employees must respect the gun policies of other companies they may visit or conduct corporate business with as part of their assigned duties. The policy must also allow the company to inspect the workplace. It is crucial that the policy clearly articulate a protocol for the discipline and termination of employees. And lastly, any union representatives should be consulted.

Every gun policy should include the following components: background checks to identify previous violent episodes; a mechanism for employees to report threats or harassment in the workplace; and training for all employees and management to recognize threats.

Background checks. The company should increase the frequency of prehiring background checks to identify whether potential employees are prone to violence. Corporations who fail to do due diligence of identifying personnel with violent past or identifying personnel with various risk factors (such as drug or alcohol abuse, belligerence on the job, sensitivity to criticism, or a history of threatening other employees) open themselves up to liability.

Background checks may reduce the likelihood of hiring the wrong person, but in many circumstances behaviors will change over time in the workplace and employees may begin to exhibit risk factors that may lead to violence. When supervisors become aware of these changes, open communications with the employee may resolve the issue, but in some cases additional background checks may become necessary to ensure the employee is not prone to violence in the workplace. Continually monitoring employees to ensure workplace safety is a critical function of any company and background checks done before hiring and in response to changes in employee behavior are sound policies to ensure a safe work environment.

Reporting. Once an incident has been reported, management must investigate fully and provide feedback to the person who reported the incident. Without this feedback mechanism, the employee who reports an incident may feel the report went unaddressed. There are certain confidentiality rules that all feedback must adhere to, but in general the feedback should include how the incident was investigated, who did the investigation, what actions are being taken, and assurances that the matter is closed. Furthermore, the feedback allows for the reporter of the incident to affirm that the issue has been addressed. If it has not, management may need to revisit the grievance.

Training. All employees must undergo the basics of violence prevention to include: understanding risk factors, recognizing inappropriate or problematic behavior, and reporting threats. This training must be mandatory and all new employees must complete the training sessions before they begin their assigned duties. All employees must go through sustainment training on this topic yearly, not only to reiterate the policy, but to advise on any changes or trends being noticed in the workplace. The most important aspect of the training program is to clearly walk through various situations and identify to each employee what response management desires from them during an incident of violence.

Guns in the workplace will continue to present challenges for corporations. Companies that fail to address this issue are placing themselves in serious danger of civil and criminal liability. Sound management practices that enforce policy standards, open and effective lines of communication, and senior management commitment to the issue can help a company mitigate potential threats.