Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper opined on May 28 that Tennessee’s new guns-in-trunks law does not prohibit employers from firing employees who bring firearms onto company property.
“The plain and unambiguous language of [the new law] does not address or alter the employer/employee relationship or prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for possessing a firearm or firearm ammunition on the employer’s property,” Cooper stated in his advisory opinion (AOG 13-41, issued May 28, 2013).
Earlier this year, the Tennessee legislature passed and Governor Bill Haslam signed a law that required employers to allow their employees with handgun carry permits to bring their firearms onto company property, so long as the employee kept their gun locked inside their vehicle out of “ordinary observation.” The law, often referred to as “guns-in-trunks,” is slated to go into effect July 1, 2013.
During Tennessee's legislative session, questions were raised about whether the law would affect Tennessee’s employment-at-will doctrine and prohibit employers from firing employees complying with the statute. Cooper answered that question with a resounding “no” in his advisory opinion, stating that the new law “only decriminalizes” the carrying and storage of firearms in vehicles in certain circumstances and “has no impact on the employment relationship between an employer and an employee.”
Cooper’s opinion is likely to be seen as a win for employers as it opens the door for them to craft policies to “restrict otherwise lawful activities,” such as taking guns to work. The opinion may also set the stage for the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups to lobby the legislature again next year to clarify that employers cannot terminate employees for following the guns-in-trunks law.
Tennessee is not the only state dealing with this issue, as Alabama Governor Robert Bentley recently signed a similar bill limiting employers’ restrictions on employees’ possession of guns at work. The Alabama law, however, recognized a cause of action for wrongful discharge if an employee was terminated solely for having a weapon in his or her car.
If you have any implementation questions about Chapter 16 of the Public Acts of 2013 or Cooper’s recent advisory opinion, please feel free to contact BABC's Labor and Employment team.