Bass Berry & Sims Labor Talk

Tennessee’s New “Guns in Trunks” Law

Posted in Doing Business in Tennessee

A new Tennessee law, effective July 1, 2013, allows Tennessee employees who hold valid permits to carry concealed weapons, to bring their weapons onto their employer’s parking lot, under certain conditions.  In light of this new law, Tennessee employers who wish to limit handguns and other weapons on their premises may do the following:

  1. Continue to post signs that weapons are not permitted on their property.  The law allows employers to continue to prohibit weapons in the employer’s building, and it allows employers to continue to prohibit weapons even in parking lots, if the employee or visitor does not have a valid carry permit.
  2. Adopt a policy requiring any employee who brings a gun to work in accordance with the statute:
    • To park in a specific designated parking area of the employer’s premises,
    • To notify the company that the employee has a weapon in the vehicle, and
    • To provide proof to the employer that the employee holds a valid permit to carry a concealed weapon.

Discussion

On February 28, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed by a wide margin (72-22) legislation allowing holders of Tennessee concealed carry permits to bring their handguns onto their employers’ parking lots, provided they comply with certain conditions (HB 118). The companion bill (SB 142) passed in the state Senate by a similar majority (28-5) two weeks earlier.  The Governor has now signed the legislation into law, and it takes effect July 1, 2013.

The new statute will permit the holder of a Tennessee handgun carry permit (or a permit issued by another state and recognized by Tennessee) to bring his or her handgun and/or ammunition onto a parking lot located on private property (excluding a parking area on the grounds of an owner-occupied, single-family detached residence, or a tenant-occupied, single-family detached residence) provided that the permit holder’s vehicle is parked in a location where it is permitted to be, and the firearm or ammunition in the vehicle is kept from ordinary observation if the permit holder is in the vehicle, or kept from ordinary observation and locked within the trunk, glove box or interior of the motor vehicle, or in a container securely fixed to such vehicle, if the permit holder is not in the vehicle.

Under prior law, most private property, and certain public areas such as parks, schools, etc., could be “posted” to prohibit the bringing of firearms of any description onto that property.

Under the new statute, employers can continue to post their property as to employees or visitors who do not have a valid handgun carry permit, and can impose restrictions on bringing firearms or other weapons into the employer’s building whether it is a manufacturing plant, distribution center, office, or other type of facility. The new statute also contains a broad indemnity provision for the owner or possessor of the property.

In the discussion of the legislation, both at the committee level and on the floor of the House of Representatives, the sponsors of the legislation emphasized that the purpose of the new bill was to remove the possibility of any criminal prosecution against an individual possessing a valid handgun carry permit, who elects to bring his handgun to work, or onto other private property, for his or her protection, provided that the conditions set forth in the statute are met. The sponsors emphasized that employers could continue to maintain work rules or policies prohibiting possession of guns or firearms on their property as to non-permit holders. Although the sponsors also stated that since Tennessee is an “employment at will” state, an employer could presumably enforce its work rules or policies even against permit holders, there is a strong likelihood that termination of an employee who came within protection of the new statute would have a claim for retaliatory discharge under Tennessee law in spite of the fact that the state is an “employment at will” state. The Tennessee Supreme Court has recognized a “public policy” exception to the employment at will rule.

Under the statute, an employer can require employees who elect to bring their guns to work in accordance with the statute to park in a specific designated area, notify the company that they have a weapon in their vehicle, and provide proof that they hold a valid carry permit. Under current Tennessee law, records of individuals who hold such permits are considered “public” records; so an employer could also conduct a search of those records to confirm that an employee has a current permit.