Plenty of news stories have profiled concerns about workplace violence, or employees who may make other employees feel at risk. This is an uncomfortable situation, but one that must be dealt with the appropriate human resources, policies, and interventions.

With rising concerns about workplace violence and a number of different legitimate concerns about the dangers of guns in workplaces, there has never been a better time to consider prevention policies and ways to address employee issues related to bringing a gun to the workplace.

Preventing Problems with the Right Policies

Having clearly documented guidelines for how to handle a situation in which an employee requests to bring a gun to work, in addition to how to handle a situation when an employee arrives at the workplace with a gun, is extremely vital for keeping everyone calm and promoting the safety of the workplace overall as well as the individual employees working there.

It is the responsibility of an employer to think carefully about how to provide a safe workplace when an employee may be licensed to carry a weapon. The workplace may have its own unique distinctions and rules about bringing a weapon to work, but human resources should be thoroughly prepared to advise new and existing employees about these policies and to respond appropriately in the event that an issue emerges.

The U.S. Department of Labor data from 2014 shares that 500,000 employees lost more than 1 million work days, generating an annual cost of greater than $4 billion associated with lost productivity. These issues were directly tied to violent acts and assaults at private workplaces. Workplace violence is costly from a financial perspective, but can also lead to psychological and physical harm, higher chances of litigation against the employer, criminal charges against the person who may have violated any state or federal laws regarding weapons, damage to the company’s reputation, workers’ compensation claims, and losses to productivity and property.

In order to minimize the legal risk an employer faces and promote a safe work environment overall, employers typically implement workplace violence policies that often include a total ban on weapons at the workplace. There are no federal laws currently in place in the United States that can regulate weapons at private workplaces, but employers may want to establish their own policies about whether or not employees can bring these weapons to work.

Many states, however, may enact guns at work laws. One such example is Oklahoma. The primary purpose of these statewide guns at work laws are to protect employees’ individual rights to possess concealed firearms when they are legally allowed to do so. In these particular states, it can make it difficult for employers who have operations to implement one policy across every state when they have locations in multiple states across the country.

Liability and Legal Risks for Employers

Any employer who is contemplating how to handle an employee who wishes to bring a gun to work, or how to respond to situations in which an employee asks to bring one, needs to know that the employer may face liability under several different legal theories, including state workers’ compensation laws, tort laws and the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

An employer could be held vicariously liable for wrongful acts by an employee, carried out in the scope of his or her employment. Negligence claims may also arise as a result of allegations of negligent retention, negligent hiring, negligent supervision, or gross negligence. If an employee is injured at work due to a gun related incident from a co-worker who was carrying at the time, the ERISA plan terms associated with your individual benefit program will determine whether or not the employee is eligible for medical treatment benefits and wage replacement.

This can generate complex legal issues that should be considered carefully by human resources professionals. While there is not any federal law establishing an employer’s specific duty to prevent workplace violence, an employer maintains a responsibility to provide a reasonably safe working location under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

What You Need to Know About Guns at Work Laws

A 2015 survey completed by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence identified that 18 states have enacted some form of legislation addressing guns at work. The majority of these laws share a common goal of protecting an individual’s right to bear arms. But they may differ as to the restrictions placed on an employer’s ability to forbid weapons at work, so you’ll want to check this first.

Responding to An Employee Who Wants to Bring Guns to Work

It is important to recognize the employee’s overall concerns for wanting to bring a gun to work. Employees may wish to protect themselves from potential workplace dangers. Employers can express empathy with these concerns, but also show the additional safety risks associated with allowing an employee to bring a gun to work.

In light of workplace accidents and violence that end up harming innocent employees, it is reasonable to understand that some employees might want to bring in a gun to work to be able to respond quickly if an incident happens on the job. However, the very act of bringing a gun to the workplace may make others uncomfortable, even if the weapon carrier believes this is an act of self-defense on behalf of individuals and the entire workplace. Being able to sit down and discuss things directly with the employees involved can show your compassion and help you explain on a personalized basis the reasoning for having a workplace policy about guns.

Any gun rules should be part of a broader workplace violence set of guidelines addressing the company’s approach on threatening behavior or violence. These guidelines should include emergency procedures, guidelines on weapons in the workplace and workplace violence prevention overall. The right plans can help articulate and avoid uncomfortable situations with your employees.