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Conceal and Carry in Ohio

Rethinking Workplace Violence
By Carol Tomko

Beginning April 8, 2004 a new law in Ohio gives citizens who carry a handgun license the right to carry concealed handguns provided they are at least twenty one years old and have not been deemed to be mentally incompetent.

Fortunately, the law does prohibit weapons in many places such as schools, day-care centers, colleges and universities, airport passenger terminals and state-owned buildings. For employers in these types of environments, it is important that their policies are not inconsistent with the law.

What does this mean for other employers? For starters, just because the law allows certain things…you as an employer do not. People who are 21 have the right to drink alcoholic beverages, but you as an employer do not have to allow alcohol in the workplace. Employers have the right to limit certain behaviors in the workplace. Furthermore, employers have the right to prohibit certain substances, products and people from coming on to their property.

With the new conceal and carry law, there will inevitably be employees who now think they have the "right" to carry a gun wherever they go. False. Employees may only conceal and carry in the workplace if the employer permits it either explicitly or by failure to have a policy against it. Most employers have no reason to permit it, and many reasons not to. If an employer does intend to permit employees to conceal and carry, it would be very wise to get a legal opinion as to the implications and risks of doing so prior to just "letting it happen".

For the average employer, there is no good reason to have a weapon on the premises. In those cases, the employer however should take very clear and firm steps to ensure that employees and managers all know that weapons of any kind are prohibited on company premises. It is especially important to do so proactively, given the new law. It is rarely a positive situation to implement a policy after it becomes known that someone is carrying a weapon to work.

One of the key elements in preventing workplace violence is to have policies in place that prohibit certain items and substances. Key policies should include specifically:

•  A very clear definition of prohibited items. List weapons and explosives, and given this new law, clearly state that this also means handguns.

•  A very clear definition of prohibited substances. Typical items include illegal drugs, alcohol, explosives, etc.

•  A definition of "Company premises"-this would include offices, plants, parking lots and company vehicles.

•  A prohibition against bringing prohibited items and substances to any company function (which should also be well defined) such as, but not limited to: company parties, picnics, trade shows, off-site meetings/training, etc.

•  Define the disciplinary action that will be taken for violation of the policies.

•  At the time of implementation, communicate clearly to employees the expectations with respect to prohibited items and substances via:

•  Employee meeting

•  Bulletin boards

•  Memo or email

•  Employee handbook

It is best to have employees sign a document stating they have been informed of the policy and understand the consequences of failing to meet the terms and conditions of the policy.

While this new law has many employers legitimately concerned about increased opportunity for workplace violence, it also gives employers a unique opportunity to bring up the subject of workplace violence and make their values and expectations known to employees. One of the things to consider in this regard is the fact that a significant number of workplace violence acts are not committed by an employee, but to an employee . Domestic violence spilling over in to the workplace is a significant issue.

While an employer can prohibit employees from bringing guns on to the premises, it is much harder to prevent an estranged spouse or significant other from coming to the worksite with a handgun. Establishing clear protocols for dealing with victims of domestic violence, including educating supervisors and managers on the signs and symptoms typically shown by victims is critical. As part of your workplace violence prevention it is important that you:

•  Establish policies related to supporting victims of domestic violence

•  Provide awareness training to security, HR and management personnel

•  Make employees aware of the company's supportive approach through

•  Awareness training

•  Information cards

•  Newsletters

•  Other forms of corporate communication

The employer who fails to act proactively when there is evidence of a violent situation brewing with an employee is risking the safety of many. The legal, public relations and financial implications of failing to educate and respond appropriately to these situations cannot be underestimated.

This change in the law now forces responsible employers to revisit their current policies, and in some cases develop new ones. The Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence is an excellent resource for such policies. Additionally, The Coalition can provide education and training to both employers and employees on the issues of workplace violence in general and domestic violence in particular.

April 8 th is here; the time to act is now. Procrastination will not keep the conceal and carry issue from being raised in the workplace. The wise and caring employer will get ahead of the issue and bring it to the fore with clarity, consistency and concern.

Carole Tomko is President of Customized Organizational Solutions and a Business Community Task Force member of the Columbus Coalition Against Family Violence. For more information on resources available to employers regarding domestic violence, please visit www.thecolumbuscoalition.org