Hidden dangers Featured

12:33pm EDT June 22, 2004
Ohio's concealed carry law added yet another burden to employers, who now have to worry about armed employees in the workplace.

While some employees in the past may have illegally carried a firearm into the workplace, there is now the potential for employees to come to work armed without being in violation of the law.

When lawmakers crafted the law, they had the foresight to make employers immune from liability for someone who comes to work and start shooting, unless the employer acted maliciously. However, that would be difficult to prove, aside from possibly a case in which an employer encouraged employees to bring guns to work.

"Even though they have immunity, employers do not want handguns brought to work," says Mark Valponi, a partner in the law firm of Taft, Stettinius and Hollister. "Employers are still allowed to prohibit firearms from being brought into the business. The way they can do this is by posting signs in the workplace that guns are forbidden."

There are still undefined areas of the law, such as how far such a prohibition goes.

"Imagine a situation where an employee gets in a fight with a supervisor, then runs out to the parking lot and grabs a handgun and takes it back into the workplace," says Valponi. "It's not clear under the law whether you can prohibit employees from having guns in their cars. I would advise you can do it if the cars are parked on an employer-provided lot, but you would have to post signs."

While signs obviously won't stop someone bent on revenge who might have a gun legally or illegally in his or her car, in today's legal climate, it's all about defensive measures to help reduce your liability risk.

Posting signs may be an easy way to tell employees handguns are forbidden, but it doesn't exactly create a welcoming message to people visiting your business if the first thing they see is a warning about guns.

"Certain businesses don't want a sign like that posted in the lobby," says Valponi. "The sign can be posted in a conspicuous place, like a lunchroom where all employees can be expected to see it. It should also be something that's put in the company handbook."

And what of the visitors themselves, especially in places such as a high-traffic doctor's office or hospital? Again, a sign posted in the waiting area may not be the type of first impression a doctor wants to make with a patient.

"What we would tell employers to do under those circumstances is to put the warning on top of the sign-in sheet that a visitor would have to sign before they get past the front desk," says Valponi. "The sign-in sheet should have language that states handguns are prohibited in the business. It could also be posted on the counter of the reception desk so when someone approaches, the policy is visible on the top surface of the desk."

There may be a reason to allow some employees to legally carry handguns. For example, an employee who makes deliveries to an unsafe part of town may want to get a concealed-carry permit for protection.

"It might be wise to show some flexibility on the policy when it comes to a situation like that," says Valponi. "Each one should be considered on a case-by-case basis."

But for the vast majority of employers, it's smart to reduce potential for liability by making sure everyone is aware of the no-guns policy.

"The ironclad way is to have everyone sign an acknowledgment that they received a copy of the policy and have it signed, dated and placed in their personnel file," says Valponi. How to reach: Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, (216) 241-2838 or www.taftlaw.com