Navigating Kentucky Law on Regulating Firearms in the Workplace
Regulating firearms in the workplace is no simple matter. Employer firearm rules that go too far could easily lead to litigation in court, especially since the right to bear arms is often a sensitive issue. To avoid costly legal disputes on this subject, employers need to know the limits and requirements of the law.
When it comes to guns and the right to regulate them, the Second Amendment and other federal laws tend to be the focus of discussion. Most federal firearm laws, however, are not geared toward regulating guns in private workplaces. On this issue, employers must usually look to what state law says.
In Kentucky, the rules for regulating guns are spread throughout a patchwork of statutes that can be difficult to navigate. Under those various state statutes, private employers do not have unfettered authority to regulate firearms. Absolute prohibitions against firearms on company property, without allowing for certain exceptions defined by law, are likely to be found too broad if challenged in court.
Although not every detail of every statute can be discussed here, there are three broad points to help identify potential pitfalls and risks on the issue of guns in the workplace.
First, what limits and obligations must private employers follow when regulating firearms?
Firearm regulations at work pit the rights of individuals to bear arms against the rights of property owners to exclude them. Both of those rights are deeply rooted. When those rights intersect in the workplace, the balance struck by Kentucky law is at the point of personal vehicles. More specific rules apply depending on whether the employee is licensed to carry concealed deadly weapons (CCDW license).
Kentucky law permits CCDW license-holders to carry deadly weapons, including guns, “at any location in the Commonwealth.”[i] There are, however, several exceptions. Although most limitations on CCDW licenses address public places, such as schools, jails and courthouses, Kentucky law gives private businesses (including private employers) the option to permit or prohibit firearms on company property.[ii]
The employer’s discretion applies to customers as well as employees, with employers having further discretion to authorize some employees to possess firearms at work but not others.[iii] Of course, letting only some employees possess guns should be decided with care because it could lead to other workplace issues that arise whenever employees are treated differently.
Kentucky law also gives private employers discretion to permit or prohibit guns in employer-owned vehicles.[iv] The employer’s ability to regulate firearms, however, ends there. Employees and customers are entitled by Kentucky law to possess firearms in their vehicles, even if the vehicles are parked on the employer’s property.[v]
CCDW license-holders appear to have broad rights under Kentucky law to keep and conceal firearms anywhere within their vehicles.[vi] In contrast, other Kentucky Statutes entitle persons without CCDW licenses to store guns in any enclosed compartment or storage space installed as original equipment in a motor vehicle by its manufacturer, such as glove compartment, center console or seat pocket, regardless of whether the compartment is locked or unlocked.[vii]
The law further clarifies that persons in Kentucky may remove firearms from their vehicles “in the case of self-defense,” “defense of another” or “defense of property.”[viii] In any other circumstances, however, handling or removing firearms from vehicles on the employer’s property is subject to the employer’s authorization.[ix]
If the employer chooses to disallow firearms on premises or in buildings that are open to the public, Kentucky law further requires the employer to post signs to warn that carrying concealed weapons is prohibited.[x] Although Kentucky law has no other posting requirements, putting the employer’s firearm policy in writing as part of an employee handbook or manual to avoid misunderstandings is a good idea to consider.
Second, what risks and penalties do employers face for not complying with gun laws?
Kentucky law gives employers power to remove or deny entry to persons who do not comply with the employer’s lawful gun policies.[xi] If the noncompliant person is an employee, that statute further permits the employer to take disciplinary measures. Employers must be careful, however, to avoid absolute gun bans, which could be interpreted to impermissibly infringe on the rights of employees and customers to possess firearms in their vehicles on employer property.
Employees who have been terminated or disciplined for lawfully exercising their right to possess firearms in their vehicles are expressly permitted by law to sue their employer for damages.[xii] The law also permits licensed or unlicensed persons, who may be either employees or customers, to sue private businesses who violate their rights under those statutes to possess guns in their vehicles.[xiii]
Notably, Kentucky law authorizes lawsuits based on the mere “attempt” to violate certain firearm rights,[xiv] which arguably could be used to contest an overbroad workplace rule that was written long ago and has since been neglected. If so, employers should not leave that issue to risk. Any employer policies that absolutely ban firearms, without allowing for firearms kept in vehicles, could be challenged as too broad and should be revised.
Third, do your customers and clients have gun policies that might affect your employee?
Many employers face additional concerns because much of their work will not be performed on their own company property but, rather, on the property of both public and private clients. Your customers, clients, or owners of job sites have their own rights and therefore may have their own rules about guns on their property. As such, an employer should make sure that they – and their employees – are familiar with any policies a customer might have for guns on its property.
If a customer has a lawful policy for guns on its property that is more restrictive than your policy, the client’s policy should be given priority. Of course, an employee still should not discipline an employee for lawfully exercising his or her right to possess firearms. Questions about the lawfulness of a client’s policy or how to resolve conflicting policies should be directed to legal counsel for guidance.
It is plain that guns are a tricky issue for employers. Don’t jump the gun with overbroad policies that might cause legal trouble. Be armed with knowing what the law is.
[i] Kentucky Revised Statutes (“KRS”) 237.0110(2)
[ii] KRS 237.110(17)
[iii] KRS 237.110(17)
[iv] KRS 237.110(17)
[v] KRS 237.110 (27) and KRS 237.106(1)
[vi] KRS 527.020(4)
[vii] KRS 527.020(8)
[viii] KRS 237.106(3)
[ix] KRS 237.106(3) and KRS 237.110 (17)
[x] KRS 237.110(17)
[xi] KRS 237.110(17)
[xii] KRS 237.106(4)
[xiii] KRS 527.020(4) and (8)
[xiv] KRS 527.020(4) and (8)