On July 8, 2011, Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 93 (“Concealed Carry Bill”) into law, meaning the law will likely go into effect on November 1, 2011. Though it may not seem like it, this new law will affect every business in Wisconsin, from bars to doctor’s offices and everything in between. Now is the time to re-examine the policies in place at your business as choosing whether to prohibit weapons may impact your liability.
Anatomy of the Concealed Carry Bill
Under the Concealed Carry Bill, a weapon is defined as “A handgun, an electric weapon […], a knife other than a switchblade knife […] or a billy club.” Anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon may apply for a license, which is good for a period of five (5) years, as long as he or she meets the following criteria: 1) At least 21 years old, 2) Not prohibited under State or Federal law from possessing firearms, 3) Not prohibited by a court from possessing firearms, 4) Is a resident of the State of Wisconsin, and 5) Has provided proof of adequate training. Anyone carrying a concealed weapon on property that is not owned, leased or otherwise legally occupied by that person must have a valid license and photo identification on his or her person.
The Concealed Carry Bill specifically prohibits weapons, concealed or not, in the following places: 1) A police station, sheriff’s office, state patrol station, or the office of a criminal investigation special agent, 2) A prison, jail, or other correctional facility, 3) A mental health facility, 4) A county, state or federal courthouse, 5) A municipal courtroom if court is in session, and 6) Beyond the security checkpoint in an airport. Violators are subject to a fine of up to Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), imprisonment for up to thirty (30) days or both.
The Effect of the Concealed Carry Bill on Liability
Business owners must now decide whether to allow concealed weapons on their property. As a business owner, if you decide to allow concealed weapons on your property, you are immune from any liability stemming from that decision. Therefore, if a customer or employee is carrying a handgun that accidently discharges, causing an injury, you cannot be held liable simply because you allowed concealed weapons on your property.
However, if you want to prohibit weapons, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. The first factor is that by prohibiting concealed weapons, you, as the business owner, lose your immunity. That’s right- if you choose not to allow weapons on your property, you could be held liable for an action occurring on your property.
The second consideration is that an establishment that prohibits weapons must effectively put customers and employees on notice by posting signs on the premises or in the building. The sign should 1) Be at least 5” x 7”, 2) State that weapons are prohibited on the premises or in the building, 3) Identify the portion of the building or premises on which weapons are prohibited (if applicable), 4) Include the name of the individual giving the notice and 5) Include the word “owner” or “occupant” after the name of the individual giving notice. This sign must be prominently posted near all entrances and/or access points to the restricted building or premises.
Another factor to consider is your employees. If you decide to prohibit weapons in your building or on your property, we strongly recommend changing your policies and employee handbook to reflect that prohibition. Any change in policy should state which specific weapons are prohibited, where weapons are prohibited and the consequences of violating the policy. However, you cannot, as a condition of employment, prohibit an employee from carrying or storing a concealed weapon or ammunition in his or her car, even if the car is used for work.
The final aspect to take into account is consistency. If you want to prohibit weapons on your property or in your building, you cannot disregard employee violations of the prohibition. A violation must result in the same disciplinary action across the board, each and every time. Since employers prohibiting concealed weapons have no immunity to liability, being consistent will lessen the likelihood that an employee will disobey the policy and reduce potential liability.
Making the Decision
No matter how you feel about the Concealed Carry Bill, it will have impact your business. Whichever way you decide to go, now is the perfect time to revisit your employment policies and make sure you have measures in place to protect your business, customers and employees. For more information on the Concealed Carry Bill or your employment policies, contact our office at (920) 996-0000