Can an employer fire an employee for bringing a gun to work?  The answer may depend on state law.

Many states have “guns-at-work” laws that require employers to allow employees to leave guns in their locked vehicles parked in the employer’s parking lot.  In these states, employers cannot fire employees for exercising their lawful right to bring a gun to work, provided that the employee’s actions comply with the applicable state law.  Whereas, in states without “guns-at-work” laws, employees may generally ban guns at work—even if stored in the employee’s vehicle parked in the employer’s lot—and may fire employees for violating such a ban.

In McIntyre v. Nissan North America, Incorporated, for example, the United States Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit recently considered the plaintiff’s argument that he was wrongfully discharged for having a firearm in his vehicle parked in the employee lot.  The plaintiff relied on a Mississippi statute giving employees the right in some circumstances to store a firearm in a locked vehicle parked in the employer’s parking lot.  The statute, however, contains an exception allowing employers to prohibit employees from storing guns in areas “to which access is restricted or limited through the use of a gate, security station or other means of restricting or limiting general public access onto the property.”

To prove up this exception, the employer pointed to a chain-link fence around the entire perimeter of the plant that was topped with barbed wire.  Further, to access the parking lot, employees had to pass through two entrances.  The first had a “no trespassing” sign precluding public access to the plant.  The second was secured with retractable drop down arms and security cameras.  Security guards also continuously patrolled the plant, including the parking lot, and the employer had policies prohibiting firearms on company property.  In siding with the employer, a three-judge panel for the Fifth Circuit deemed these measures more than sufficient to satisfy the statutory exception to the right of an employee to have a firearm in his vehicle at work.

Takeaway for employers: Employers should maintain a written “guns-at-work” policy that explains whether, and in what specific scenarios (if any), firearms are permitted on company property. This policy should be prepared in consultation with counsel and should take into account any “guns-at-work” laws in states where the employer operates.