Monthly Archive: July 2008

IN THE NEWS – IMPACT OF NEW GUN LAW ON WORKPLACE SAFETY POLICIES

Are your employees keeping loaded guns in their cars on company property? Under a new Florida law, you can’t ask. On July 1, the Preservation and Protection of the Right to Keep and Bear Arms in Motor Vehicles Act of 2008 went into effect. Under this law, an employer can no longer prohibit its employees from bringing loaded guns onto company property – so long as those guns remain locked in the employee’s vehicle.

Certain exceptions do apply – schools, prisons, nuclear power plants, Defense Department contractors, and business that maintain explosives – but unless your company falls into one of those categories, your employees (with valid concealed weapons permits) must now be permitted to keep firearms in their cars, and you cannot take disciplinary or retaliatory action against them for doing so. The Act also applies to “invitees” to your business premises, thereby including customers, volunteers, student interns, vendors or anyone else with a legitimate reason to park their vehicle in your parking lot.

But before you begin polling your employees to determine whether they are keeping guns in their vehicles, you should know that the new law also provides: “No public or private employer may violate the privacy rights of a customer, employee, or invitee by verbal or written inquiry regarding the presence of a firearm inside or locked to a private motor vehicle in a parking lot…”

Many employers and commentators have raised concerns about the possibility that this new law may lead to an increase in workplace violence, by making weapons more accessible to disgruntled and unstable employees or customers. Although the new law is reportedly facing several challenges in the courts, for now it is the law.

Any employee handbook that prohibits employees from bringing firearms onto company premises should be revised to make an exception for firearms that are lawfully stored in an employee’s locked vehicle.

EMPLOYER ALERT – LISTEN TO THE MUSIC

A Silicon Valley engineering firm is paying $168,000 in damages and amending its anti-harassment policy to include the playing of music with offensive lyrics, as part of the settlement of a racial harassment case filed by the EEOC.

According to the EEOC’s statement released June 24, the lawsuit was filed based on the failure of the company’s supervisors to respond appropriately to complaints by a black employee that a co-worker, a 27-year-old Vietnamese American, played and sang along with rap music that had racial slurs in the lyrics, including the “N-word,” within his earshot in the workplace.

Do you, as an employer, now need to monitor the musical taste of your workers and pre-approve what’s playing on their radio or iPod, even in the break room? Or prohibit employees from listening to music at work altogether? No. But you do need to train your supervisors to take complaints of this nature seriously, and make a distinction between music that simply reflects different tastes, and music that could reasonably be perceived as offensive based on race, ethnicity, sex or any of the protected classes under federal, state and local discrimination laws.

EEOC District Director Michael Baldonado had this to say about the case. “This is the kind of situation that many workplaces [in the country] face: How do you manage the culture clash – across generations, race and ethnicity, you name it – in a workplace that gets more diverse every day? I think it’s critical to try to put yourself into the shoes of the other person and take all complaints of discrimination seriously. Together we can try to defuse tensions and prevent situations from developing into discrimination and harassment.”