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Employers wary of laws that allow guns at work

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Employers wary of laws  that allow guns at work

INDIANAPOLIS—Legislation that would allow current and prospective employees to sue Indiana employers that inquire about gun ownership expands the battle over allowing firearms in workplace parking lots, experts say.

Indiana S.B. 411, introduced last month, followed the state's adoption last year of a National Rifle Assn.-backed law that bars businesses from prohibiting workers from keeping guns in locked cars parked on employer property.

The NRA has backed similar employer parking lot gun legislation across the country. Thirteen states have adopted such laws, which employers have argued violates their property rights and creates safety concerns. Such legislation is now under consideration in Texas and Montana's House Judiciary Committee heard a similar bill last week.

However, the latest gun-related legislation in Indiana would further erode employers' ability to provide a safe workplace, experts said. The legislation would allow lawsuits if employers ask job applicants or employees about gun ownership or if they require employees to disclose whether they transport firearms in their cars.

The legislation, which would allow employees to file civil actions, does not specify damages that could be imposed on employers who ask such questions.

“Everything they are doing is eroding the employer's ability to have some kind of control over safety within their businessplace,” said Marty Wood, vp of the Insurance Institute of Indiana. “There is no doubt about that.”

While the law adopted last year exempts employers from third-party liability for damages arising from incidents related to guns stored in a worker's car, plaintiffs could challenge that portion of the law, said George Raymond, vp of human resources and labor relations at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in Indianapolis.

Additionally, the law did not eliminate workers compensation liability for injuries that could arise from gun accidents or deliberate workplace shootings, Mr. Raymond said. Previous workplace shootings in Indiana have already established a precedent to award workers comp benefits in such cases, he said.

“It would be rare in that type of situation, given our case history, that work comp benefits would not be awarded to the injured party,” Mr. Raymond said.

Mr. Wood agreed: “You absolutely would be facing work comp claims.”

To help employers cope with the parking lot gun law adopted last year, the Indiana Manufacturers Assn. provided members with several recommendations, said Ed Roberts, vp of the Indianapolis-based association. But those recommendations led to the introduction of S.B. 411 by Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Lawrenceburg, Mr. Roberts and others said.

Where parked employee cars potentially block fire trucks and other emergency vehicle access to employer property, employers were advised to require that employees keep their cars unlocked and leave their keys in the car or with the employer so the vehicle can be moved quickly, Mr. Roberts said.

The law requires that guns be kept in cars that are locked, which effectively prohibits workers from storing guns in their cars on company property, Mr. Roberts said.

The Indiana Manufacturers Assn. also suggested that employers ask employees about guns and ammunition stored in their cars in case a fire occurs in the parking lot, Mr. Roberts said. That way, firefighters could be warned about potential projectiles that could harm them or strike company property, say at a refinery, and cause other fires, Mr. Roberts said.

Several observers said S.B. 411 will become law in Indiana because of the NRA's backing.

“The NRA can pass anything they want to pass,” Mr. Roberts said. “They just run over you.”

Opposition “doesn't matter,” Mr. Wood said. “We are up against the NRA.”

The NRA did not return calls seeking comment.

In Texas, meanwhile, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, introduced S.B. 321 last month. It would bar employers from restricting employees from storing guns in locked cars parked in work areas. Like similar laws in other states, it would provide employers immunity from related liability, except in cases of gross negligence.

The Texas Assn. of Business opposes the measure because it would restrict employers' ability to tailor safety policies for their organizations, said Cathy DeWitt, vp of governmental affairs for the Austin-based association.

Past attempts to pass similar bills in Texas failed in the state's House of Representatives. But a more conservative House this year makes passage more likely, sources said.

Last week, Montana's House Judiciary Committee heard H.B. 368, sponsored by Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre. Like measures in other states, the bill would ban employers from barring guns in their parking lots and provide immunity from liability.