Last week, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court ruling which had invalidated an Oklahoma law that prohibits employers from banning employees from carrying licensed firearms in their vehicles on company property. The district court concluded that the Oklahoma law was preempted by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, and that employers must be allowed to adopt workplace safety rules regarding firearms.
In Ramsey Winch, Inc. v. Henry, the Tenth Circuit rejected this reasoning. While the general duty clause of the OSH Act requires employers to furnish employees with safe working conditions, OSHA has never promulgated specific safety standards with regard to workplace violence. The Tenth Circuit used the lack of any OSHA rule, standard, or opinion to reject the preemption argument. Workplace violence is an unanticipated hazard, not a recognized one that falls under the general duty clause’s coverage.
This decision bodes ill for other challenges to recent state “Bring Your Guns to Work” laws. The Oklahoma law is fairly limited in terms of its coverage in that it only applies to locked employee vehicles. However, the Tenth Circuit upheld the district court’s rejection of challenges to the law on Constitutional grounds. The Oklahoma law does not constitute a taking of private property by the government akin to an eminent domain situation. The court also found a rational basis behind the firearms law.
While other state workplace gun laws face similar legal challenges, the Henry decision indicates federal courts’ unwillingness to interfere with these legislative measures.