In 2013, Tennessee enacted the so-called “guns in trunks law”, Tenn. Code §39-17-1313. This provided a defense to a criminal prosecution for a handgun carry permit holder, if parked on property where the owner prohibited firearm possession. However, the statute did not specifically prohibit an employer from firing an employee for violating a “no guns” policy of the business. This changes when a new law takes effect July 1, 2015.
Under Tenn. Code §50-1-312, no employer shall discharge or take any adverse employment action against an employee who has a valid handgun carry permit, solely for transporting or storing a firearm or ammunition in an employer parking area. The firearm must be stored in a manner consistent with Tenn. Code §39-17-1313(a). Both statutes must be consulted to understand what is and is not allowed.
An employer who fires or takes adverse employment action against an employee solely for possessing a firearm in a parking area may be sued for economic damages, attorney fees or an injunction to prevent future violations.
Important things to remember:
- Only holders of handgun permits are protected by the new law.
- The law applies to handgun carry permits issued by Tennessee or recognized in this state (permits from just about every state, see Tenn. Code §39-17-1351).
- It only applies to transporting or storing firearms in the parking area. It does not allow employees to carry firearms on the employer’s property outside the parking area.
- The law applies to “firearms”, not just handguns.
- The provision applies only if the permit holder’s vehicle is parked in a location where it is permitted to be and the firearm stored in the vehicle is kept from ordinary observation if the permit holder is in the vehicle.
- If the permit holder is not in the vehicle, the firearm must be kept from ordinary observation and locked in the trunk, glove box, or interior of the vehicle or a container securely affixed to the vehicle.
- The new statute allows the employee to sue for dismissal or “adverse employment action”, which means, at least, termination, demotion, failure to promote, or any other action that results in the loss of a tangible employment benefit.
- An employee can recover “economic damages”, presumably no emotional losses or punitive damages. The employer will have to pay a successful employee’s attorney fees.
- The statute defines “employer” as a “person, association, or legal or commercial entity”. It may not provide any protection to employees of state or local government or a governmental agency.
- An employer may continue to prohibit firearms in employer-owned vehicles.
There is some protection for employers under Tenn. Code §39-17-1313 (b), which provides the owner/possessor of the property cannot be held liable for the misuse or theft of the stored firearm, unless the owner/possessor is involved in the use of the firearm. As you can see, the new statute presents many issues for employers and employees.