(Editor's Note: This is the latest in a series articles this week by the labor and employment team at the law firm of Wright Lindsey Jennings of Little Rock examining key trends for employers and the workplace in 2019.)
Arkansas' concealed carry laws continue to leave many employers — both public and private — with questions about what rights their employees have and whether non-employees are allowed to bring a concealed weapon onto the premises.
Generally, carrying a concealed weapon is prohibited in publicly owned buildings and facilities. Pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 5-73-122, "it is unlawful for any person other than a law enforcement officer or a security guard in the employ of the state or an agency of the state, or any city or county, or any state or federal military personnel, to knowingly carry or possess a loaded firearm or other deadly weapon in any publicly owned building or facility or on the State Capitol grounds." Further, private employers can ban weapons by placing appropriate signage providing notice of the prohibition.
The Enhanced Permit
In 2017, the Arkansas General Assembly took significant steps to expand the rights of concealed carry holders. One of the most important developments was the creation of an enhanced concealed carry endorsement. The enhanced permit requires an additional eight hours of firearms training and allows the holder to legally carry a concealed firearm in places where firearms have previously been prohibited. Once an individual completes the enhanced permit course, he or she will receive a concealed carry endorsement on the concealed carry license.
Although the enhanced permit was originally intended to expand the rights of concealed carry holders at public colleges and universities, it grew in scope to include a number of both private and public locations.
Enhanced permit holders are legally allowed to carry a concealed handgun in a bar, church or private college unless signs are posted that expressly state that guns are prohibited. Enhanced permit holders are legally allowed to carry a concealed handgun in publicly owned buildings, including the state Capitol, subject to a few exceptions.
One of those exceptions has generated a bit of controversy. Ark. Code Ann. § 5-73-306(18) states that firearms can be prohibited at "[a]ny place at the discretion of the person or entity exercising control over the physical location . . . by placing at each entrance to the place a written notice." This section was not amended by the enhanced carry laws, leading some (including the Arkansas Municipal League) to take the position that even public entities could ban enhanced carry permit holders. Others argue that the provision only applies to privately-owned sites. We'll see if anyone in the General Assembly takes on this issue in the future or leaves it alone.
What Should Employers Do?
What does this mean for employers? Generally, Arkansas employers are allowed to prohibit the possession of handguns in the workplace, including by their employees, and they may prohibit invitees from carrying concealed within their buildings by posting a prohibition sign. Whether public employers have that same authority when it comes to enhanced carry permit holders is a matter of some contention.
Further, an employee who possesses either a traditional concealed carry permit or the enhanced permit may store a legally owned handgun in the employee's vehicle while it is parked in the employer's parking lot. There are some restrictions on how the firearm must be stored, including that the handgun must be lawfully possessed, stored out of sight inside a locked vehicle and stored inside a "locked personal handgun storage container." What constitutes a locked personal handgun storage container has been a subject of debate. Some suggest that keeping the handgun in the vehicle's locked glove compartment is sufficient while others argue that a lockbox or something similar is required to comply with the law.
Employers should know that they cannot be held liable in a civil action for damages, injuries or death resulting from an employee's or non-employee's actions involving a handgun stored in a parking lot unless the employer intentionally solicited or procured the person's actions. Further, a handgun possessed in a parking lot does not constitute a failure (at least under state law) of a private employer to provide a safe workplace. Finally, a private employer may terminate any employee who unreasonably displays a handgun in plain sight of others in the workplace, in a parking lot or in a motor vehicle.
With the significant changes that were made in 2017 and the confusion about the scope of the changes in the public arena, the status of concealed carry within Arkansas will remain a debated topic.
Jacob Lively is a former attorney at Wright Lindsey Jennings who is now General Counsel and Director of Human Resources for Pediatrics Plus. Stuart Jackson is a partner at Wright Lindsey Jennings on the Labor & Employment Team.