published Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

Employers can still fire workers over guns in parking lots, Tennessee attorney general says

NASHVILLE — Tennessee employers can indeed fire workers who violate company policy by storing firearms and ammunition in vehicles parked on employers’ property despite a new state law, State Attorney General Bob Cooper says in a new legal opinion.

Cooper’s legal analysis, requested by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, addresses a simmering debate over the impact of a so-called “guns in parking lots” bill passed by state lawmakers in this year’s session.

The bill was a compromise on the contentious issue that had Republican leaders caught in a political crossfire between gun rights groups, which sought the ability for handgun-permit holders to bring their weapons to work, and businesses, which opposed it.

Critics like Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris warned that while the bill legalized permit holders’ ability to store their weapons on most parking lots, it did nothing to alter Tennessee’s “at will” employment law. That law allows employers to fire workers for any reason or for no stated reason at all.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, who co-sponsored the bill, said employees would be protected from employers. But Rep. Jeremey Faison, R-Cosby, the House sponsor, said they would not.

In his analysis, Cooper said the new law exempts holders of a valid handgun carry permit from criminal penalties by bringing and storing their firearms in their vehicles “on any public or private parking areas” if the vehicle is allowed to be there and the weapons are kept out of sight.

But, Cooper wrote, the law “only decriminalizes the carrying and storage of firearms and firearm ammunition. ... It does not address and thus has no impact on the employment relations between an employer and an employee.”

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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