What if someone 'goes postal?' Illinois' concealed-carry law has companies asking questions

News-DemocratJuly 20, 2013 

Illinois' new concealed-carry gun law has business owners asking questions about how it affects their premises and their employees.

There aren't clear-cut answers yet for some of the questions.

For example, can an employer force employees to say whether they have a concealed-carry permit?

"Theoretically, you can," said Brandon Anderson, a labor and employment attorney. "But is that going to raise the ire of the Second Amendment crowd? It's a good question, and I think for the now the response is, you can try to implement that policy, and you'll most likely have it addressed by some court when someone challenges it."

Anderson, an attorney with the SmithAmundsen law firm, is conducting webinars on the topic for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

Anderson said businesses have posed that question to him, along with others which don't have easy answers, such as:

* If an employer has a no-guns-at-work policy, does it cover an employee who goes on a company trip or takes a client to dinner?

"The law doesn't say anything about it, so I think we get into a situation where we're balancing someone's constitutional rights against a business' right to regulate its employees," Anderson said. "It gets really gray when you talk about someone in a personal vehicle, but on company business. I haven't, myself, come to a real conclusion."

* Can an employer prohibit employees from carrying guns in company vehicles?

"There's probably enough basis to say, 'OK, no concealed-carry, no firearms can be kept on company property, including company cars,'" Anderson said.

The Chamber of Commerce had one webinar on the topic Friday. When registration for that one filled up, the group decided to schedule a second webinar for Aug. 2.

Chamber President Doug Whitley said most businesses currently have policies that prohibit guns at the workplace, including the parking lot. When the concealed-carry law was being debated, Chamber of Commerce members mostly were concerned about being able to control their parking lots, Whitley said. The law, which went into effect earlier this month, ended up having a provision that allows a permit-holder to keep a gun in his or her vehicle while at work, even if the vehicle is on a company lot.

"The problem is, you always have the risk that someone goes postal, and they go out to the car and have easy access to a weapon," Whitley said. "Of course, the hunter wants to be able to take the gun to the plant, and leave work and go directly to the duck blind."

As for whether employees should have to tell their bosses if they have a concealed-carry permit, Whitley said: "I don't know if it's the employer's right to know, if it's legal under the law. If it's legal to have a gun on the parking lot, I don't think it necessarily should be required to be reported. But that's a personal opinion, it's not necessarily the chamber's opinion."

The law allows permit-holders to keep guns inside their vehicles while parked at work or while parked at places where concealed-carry is prohibited, such as schools, government buildings and bars. The gun has to be in a case inside a locked vehicle, or inside a locked container, out of plain view.

There are two exceptions, however, to the parking lot rule: nuclear facilities and properties where firearms are prohibited by federal law.

"I would imagine that federal law would certainly allow a military base to prohibit non-military or non-authorized personnel from carrying onto a military base," Anderson said.

A business owner who wishes to have a gun-free premises will be required to post a 4-inch by 6-inch sign in a conspicuous manner at the entrance. The Illinois State Police will determine a uniform design for the signs. No sign is required to establish a private residence as a gun-free property.

Businesses that derive more than 50 percent of their receipt from the sale of alcohol cannot allow guns to be carried in the establishment. Businesses that violate that rule are subject to a fine up to $5,000.

What about liability?

Will prohibiting guns on company premises, and writing restrictive employee policies, reduce potential liability for a business? Not necessarily, according to Anderson.

For example, he said, having a no-gun policy but not enforcing it could be worse, in the eyes of a jury or judge, than having a guns-allowed policy. "So, do I need to frisk people at the door?" he said.

And what about if someone gets attacked at a place where the owner prohibited guns? Anderson said a victim who has a concealed-carry permit could argue "if only I'd been able to carry, this wouldn't have happened."

Valinda Rowe, of IllinoisCarry.org, which supports concealed-carry, said employers also should keep in mind the constitutional rights of employees.

Rowe said one question raised by members of the organization is whether an employer could terminate an employee for having a gun in a vehicle on the company parking lot. Even though a business can't prohibit a permit-holder from keeping a gun in a vehicle on the parking lot, firing someone who does so is a different question, she said.

Rowe thinks companies should not be allowed to fire such employees, "just like they can't fire you for voting for the political party you vote for, or for going to the church that you go to."

She added: "Are they going to guarantee the safety of employees, to and from work? I don't think so, and if you prevent someone from having a firearm in their locked vehicle in the parking lot, you are precluding them from protecting themselves all the way to work and all the way home from work. And you are denying them a constitutional right."

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2511.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2511.

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