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Keven Moore: Should human resources managers arm themselves with a firearm; what are the risks?

Headline news of mass shootings has been a part of our society for the past three decades.

Many of these incidents are the result of workplace violence, where a disgruntled employee or ex-employee has returned to the workplace to commit such a horrid act of violence.

Just a few weeks ago Gary Martin a disgruntled employee, opened fire with a Smith & Wesson on the day he was fired from Henry Pratt Co in Aurora, IL, killing five workers and wounding five police officers. The victims included a human resources manager, a human resources intern, and a plant manager, where the gunman worked for 15 years.

Not knowing the circumstance for his firing, it’s hard to speculate the reasons for him being terminated, but given his past violent behavior, it wouldn’t have hard to piece it together.
When an employee is causing serious problems in the workplace—threatening co-workers or making others feel uncomfortable—line managers often just want that employee terminated.

However, terminating unstable and potentially violent employees is one of the most stressful and dangerous work environments a human resources manager can be placed in.

In a prior life working as an asset protection manager in the retail industry in Dallas, TX in the 90’s I was asked to sit in a handful of these types of terminations because the human resources manager feared for her safety. These situations are difficult at best for everybody involved, and today can be even life-threatening.

I can honestly say that there was one particular occasion, that I did fear for my safety. In that situation, the male employee was a known hothead with a quick temper, and quite frankly we didn’t know what to expect. To offset the situation, the HR manager didn’t give the employee any notice of the meeting, and we had 2 other male managers waiting in the office when he came into the room.

Under desk model, from Pinterest

This was also Texas so you didn’t know if the employee was carrying a carry concealed firearm, and all I know was that I wasn’t. The incident did get a little heated but it didn’t end with any violence, but we all feared that he may return, which he never did thankfully.

As a safety and risk management consultant, I recognize the dangers HR managers face every day when they have to deal with these types of employees. Just about every HR manager will tell you that 90% of their problems come from 10% of their employees and that there is always one or two employees that have the potential for violence.

With the economy in full swing with unemployment being a record low, HR managers are having to hire and onboard warm bodies and aren’t vetting the candidates as well as they would like. Consequently, the risk for a workplace violence incident increases.

As a result of these recent incidents, several human resources managers are asking if they should arm themselves with a firearm for their own safety. In fact, I know of one that breaks company policy and brings a gun to work for his/her own protection. But is this right? Is it necessary?

Should employers have a few trained managers be allowed to carry guns at work? Should Human Resources managers be allowed to carry guns to work? What are the risks and benefits?

My first reply to a business owner is, …do what makes you feel safe. Then for those HR managers that work for an employer that doesn’t have a carry conceal firearms policy, then I would also say do what makes you feel safe, but don’t advertise it.

But as an employee, you must understand that if your employer doesn’t allow you to carry concealed then you can and most likely face termination if ever discovered, so I would advise you to follow your company policy. If you work in a gun free zone such as a school or government building, you could also face felony charges.

Many employers take this policy very seriously, and I would advise HR managers to take your concerns up with upper management and demand better security. If they don’t take the necessary actions to improve your security, then it may be time to find a new employer.

The reason for arming a few managers is to deter an unstable person from trying to commit a violent act and, if a violent act does occur, to then try to counteract the threat. In several states, armed managers would have to have a Firearm Owner Identification card—and a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed weapon if approved at work. If the managers have these documents, there should be some confidence that they are trained to use the firearm.

However, the disadvantages of arming managers are many according to an article in the Society of Human Resources Managers website www.SHRM.org.

For one thing, a manager is usually not a sworn law enforcement officer, so he or she would not have the same legal immunities from liability that officers have. While a manager has the 2nd amendment right to carry the firearm, it does not authorize the use of deadly force.

Instead, managers would be relying on their right to self-defense, which only permits the reasonable use of force to protect themselves or others.

Employers already have a lot of things to worry about when it comes to managing their workforce, so a policy permitting weapons in the workplace even for a few managers only, would add a great deal of responsibility and risk to their company.

You have to look beyond the purpose and look at the “what if” risk factors that this brings to the employer. A manager’s gun could be used for an improper intent, or something could go wrong in an attempt to use it for a proper intent. For example, an innocent bystander could be injured, or a firearm could be accidentally discharged, or a gun could be taken from and used against the manager.

If a gun is used in the workplace the issue then becomes whether the manager exceeded the scope of reasonable force and acted negligently or in a reckless manner. Did the employer provide proper and enough training? If a manager is allowed to carry a firearm he/she could then be liable for civil damages for personal injury, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress and, in the case of reckless conduct, punitive damages.

Then because the manager would be acting as an agent of the employer, the employer will most definitely be liable, because they have a deeper pocket. So the question is, would this be covered under your general liability policy, and is such action excluded from their policy?

Once an employer authorizes a manager to bring a firearm into the workplace, the employer will then lose the right to argue that using the weapon was not in the scope of employment.
Then you need to consider your employees. There will be two schools of thought, those that will be terrified by the presence of a manager carrying a firearm at work, and then those that will feel a sense of security by such action. Both types of employees have a right to feel whatever emotion that it causes, but what if one of those managers weren’t properly vetted and he/she was unstable or a hot head?

I would advise that if an employer wanted to allow firearms in the workplace, then they need to run an exhaustive and thorough background check on the individuals that have been identified to carry a firearm at work.

If an employer permits guns in the workplace, I would first recommend that you check your local and state laws to ensure that you are compliant. Then you need to develop a policy that identifies what firearm is allowed to be carried, who is allowed to carry and if that firearm must be concealed. I further recommend that the employer send those employees through some extensive firearms training conducted by a certified firearms instructor.

Then finally I would make sure that your insurance agent is aware of your new policy to ensure that you have the coverage and the right limits to protect you from any potential lawsuits that could arise from this new company policy.

Your firearms policy needs to be clear and you define the circumstances in which a manager would be permitted to use the firearm and define “reasonable use of force” and then have legal counsel review it.

If you are not comfortable with allowing a few managers to carry a firearm then there are some alternative safety measures. It may be more effective for employers to increase their security budgets and layer their security to deter and prevent such an incident. They could install access control entry points, limit access to the administrative offices, install and monitor security cameras, erect perimeter fencing and funnel employees past a security guard, install bulletproof glass, hire security guards and offer more safety training to employees.

Another viable option is to transfer this risk away from your company and hire armed security or an off-duty police officer full time, or for a few weeks after terminating that one employee that you fear may come back to work to do you harm.

But whatever decision you chose, make sure that you include and notify your insurance agent.

Be Safe My Friends!

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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