Friday, September 28, 2012

Business Workshop: Will Gun Rights Supersede Employer Rights?

Jane Lewis Volk, Esquire
The "at-will" firing rights of Pennsylvania employers could be threatened by those advocating an expansion of the right to carry firearms in public.

At-will employment means that an employer can fire any employee at any time without cause -- as long as the firing does not violate law, contract or public policy.

The "public policy exception" enables employees to fight a termination if they can identify a specific provision of state law or the constitution which states or expresses a public policy that would prohibit their termination.

A recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court concluded that Kentucky has a "strong public policy in favor of exempting a person's vehicle from restrictions on the possession of deadly weapons." The court ruled in favor of an at-will employee who brought a wrongful discharge lawsuit against his former employer after being fired for keeping a pistol in his car, which was parked in his employer's parking lot.

The court reasoned that Kentucky's protection of gun rights superseded the employer's right to ban firearms on its property.

Pennsylvania courts tend to review "public policy" claims carefully, and rarely find a clear expression of public policy prohibiting the termination of an at-will employee.

It is an open question as to whether Pennsylvania courts would conclude that there is a well-defined public policy that would trump an employer's right to terminate an at-will employee under circumstances similar to those in the Kentucky case.

But Pennsylvania legislators are working to eliminate the uncertainty. A bill titled the "Preservation and Protection of Firearms in Motor Vehicles Act" is currently pending in the general assembly, and it would recognize every citizen's right to conceal a firearm in their vehicle, and prohibit employers from interfering with that right.

Pennsylvania employers concerned about the possible erosion of their at-will rights as employers should contact their state legislators about the proposed law.
For more information on this topic, please contact Jane Lewis Volk at
This article originally appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Business Workshop section.  Business workshop is a weekly feature from local experts offering tidbits on matters affecting business.  Read more: 

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