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Employers fight Florida law allowing guns in parking lots

Provision gives disgruntled workers easy access to personal firearms, raises liability risks, business groups say


TALLAHASSEE, Fla.--A Florida law that allows workers to keep guns in cars parked in company lots opens employers to more lawsuits and endangers their employees, employer groups say.

The law, which was signed last week by Gov. Charlie Crist, stops employers from banning handguns in their parking lots as long as employees and customers have a concealed weapons permit and keep their guns locked in their vehicles.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Retail Federation say they will challenge the law in federal court arguing that it illegally interferes with private property rights. The law is due to take effect July 1.

The National Rifle Assn. supports the law and has an ongoing drive to pass similar statutes in all 50 U.S. states. Alaska, Kansas Minnesota and Oklahoma already have parking lot gun laws; similar legislation is pending in Alabama, Arizona and Louisiana, an NRA spokeswoman said.

About half a million Florida residents have concealed weapons permits and the new law prohibits employers from verifying who has a permit, said Chuck Magazine, speaking in his role as president of the Palm Beach Chapter of the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. Mr. Magazine is also risk manager for Boynton Beach, Fla.

The RIMS chapter lobbied against the measure saying that supervisors and workers will face a greater threat of workplace violence.

Plenty of examples exist of employees who are disciplined or terminated and drive home to retrieve a weapon, Mr. Magazine said. Having a firearm closer by, in the parking lot, means there will be even less time for an angry and disgruntled employee to cool off.

"Safety just went out the window," he said.

Florida's law also prevents employers from: banning guns as a condition of employment, terminating or discriminating against an employee for storing a gun in their car, and from searching employee vehicles.

The NRA argues that a business owner's private property rights are not affected by "a law preventing the micromanagement of the lawful contents of a person's privately-owned automobile." Allowing employers to ban firearms in their parking lots interferes with employees' right to protect themselves during their daily commute, according to an NRA position paper.

"Customers and workers should not have to choose between protecting themselves or following the political policies of an anti-gun business," NRA past President Marion P. Hammer said in a statement.

But the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Retail Federation plan to sue to stop the law's implementation, said Adam Babington, director of coalitions and initiatives for the Tallahassee-based Chamber

"This is an attack on business," said Mr. Babington, who added that concealed weapons permits are easy to obtain in Florida.

The law provides two new legal actions that workers can pursue for claims that their right to pack guns in their cars has been violated, Mr. Babington said.

They complain to state authorities who can then seek an injunction or damages and fines. Simultaneously, employees can file a civil lawsuit claiming discrimination, he said. "Right now you have employment discrimination for gender, race, religion, now you would add gun ownership to that list," Mr. Babington said.

The chamber also is concerned about third-party liability from guns brought onto business property and the potential for workers compensation losses, Mr. Babington said.

The new law states that employers have immunity from liability while complying with its mandates, but an employee's gun could be used in a way that does not comply with the law, Mr. Babington said.

The "immunity is so weak, and we all know that even if you have immunity you are still going to get sued," Mr. Babington said. "You might get a summary judgment, but you are still going to incur legal costs."

Such gun laws increase insureds' potential liability while restricting safety measures, said Bruce C. Wood, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Assn. in Washington.

The American Society of Safety Engineers opposes government interference with employers' efforts to protect workers, a spokeswoman said.

ASSE recently filed an amicus brief urging the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to affirm a judge's 2007 permanent injunction of an Oklahoma law that would have stopped employers prohibiting guns inside of locked cars on their property. The district court judge sided with employers and found the law conflicted with the 1970 Occupational Health and Safety Act requiring employers to lessen work-place hazards.

In Georgia, legislators earlier this month adopted a law that would restrict a company's ability to ban guns from parking lots accessible by the public. The legislation is pending action by Georgia's Gov. Sonny Perdue.