True or false: Only law enforcement and some security guards are allowed to bring weapons to work.

It must be true, right? Could you imagine if just anyone could bring a gun to work? But what about our constitutional right to bear arms? If an employee has a legitimate permit, isn’t it lawful for her to carry her weapon?

The answer is more complicated than a simple true or false.

Guns, politics and religion

Talking about weapons at work can be a sensitive topic. Like other generally forbidden topics, it can bring passionate debate to a place where most people are doing their best to be polite and get through their day.

Yet, like other hot-button issues, the topic of weapons in the workplace warrants some level-headed discourse and thoughtful action.

Like so many other complicated work-related legal situations, California provides a great example of some of the challenges associated with weapons at work. In her recent Employment Law Alert from the California Chamber of Commerce, Ellen Savage briefly summarizes what most of us would understand as the main issues:

  • A concealed carry permit does not necessarily allow you to bring your gun into the office.
  • Private employers in California may create policies that ban guns in their offices and their parking lots, even in an employee’s personal car.

However, she points out that some states have laws that require employers to allow employees with the right to carry their firearm the ability to leave it in their car even when that car is in the employers parking lot. Further, some states (including California) have privacy laws that would prohibit the employer from searching the employee’s property without the employee’s consent; or discrimination laws that would prohibit the employer from asking the employee whether she has a weapon.

So, it seems you can have a gun, lawfully carry it and unlawfully bring it into the office, but your boss may or may not be able to ask you if you have it, and you may be able to deny him the ability to check.

Clear as mud

The issue can become even more complicated depending upon from which side you approach it. For example, as a private investigator, I could have a carry permit as a requirement of my job. Thus, because of that and the requirements I went through to obtain it, I consider myself a responsible employee and would not think twice about carrying my weapon.

However, if you were in the accounting department at work and you sat next to me, you might feel like my ability to carry a weapon creates an unsafe workplace. In turn, you complain to our HR department that our employer is failing in their responsibility under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to provide a safe workplace.

Who is right? Well, it depends on the state in which you work, your employer’s policy and perhaps even you or your co-workers’ job responsibilities.

Next steps

As usual, the next steps must start with you. Figure out what you think, believe, want and feel about the situation. If you do not know and you care to, then learn more.

Start by finding out what your employer’s position is on the situation. The laws are so complex it is possible your employer is not 100 percent clear on the situation either. This article, “Guns at the Workplace” from The Practical Law Company, is a great place for both individuals and employers to start. Check it out and just like every other topic about which people can be passionate, try to keep a good dose of open-mindedness.

And of course, if you are an employer, check with counsel before you put anything in writing.