Workplace violence — do guns belong in the workplace?
Nonprofit experts Gary G. Godsey, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, and Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, have teamed up to create MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the authors' personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
I volunteer for a sweet little charity that brings flowers, treats and companionship to homebound seniors. Before a meeting, I went into a staff member's desk (without his permission) to grab an extra marker. To my surprise, there was a handgun in the drawer.
I shouldn't have been poking through his belongings, obviously, and I assume he has a permit for the gun. That said, he works in IT and has no professional need for a gun. It scares me and I think it's inappropriate in the workplace — even though we don't have a "guns banned" notice on the door. My husband is also upset and wants me to quit volunteering if the gun stays.
This staff member is a vocal gun advocate, but it never occurred to me that he’d bring a gun to the office. He's also made it clear that he thinks I'm a bleeding-heart liberal and he seems to have a touch of disdain for my attitudes. I don't think that simply talking to him will make any difference.
Gary says …
Ahhh … the clash of political and personal opinions!
Here's the truth: If this staff member has a permit to carry the weapon and your office doesn't have a handgun ban, then you really don't have a case. Either you can accept the fact that he has a weapon at work or you can move on to another volunteer opportunity. This man has no obligation to accommodate you.
That said, you could ask him to take the gun home and see where it goes.
Also be aware that you're making a lot of assumptions here — and you know what they say about assuming! If you're unsure, find out the actual policies. Maybe the organization has a written policy prohibiting guns in the workplace, even if there isn't a sign posted on the door. Once you know the policies, you can proceed accordingly. Until then, stay out of private desk spaces without being invited.
Kathryn says ...
Ouch! This is touchy ground. Various laws are in play here, as well as political and personal beliefs.
Look, you're a volunteer. If the staff member with a gun has a permit and is following the appropriate regulations, you can choose to stay or go. Personally, I'm less than thrilled with guns in general, and certainly guns in the workplace. That said, I don't make the laws — nor do you.
Either talk it out with this guy, ignore it or find another lovely nonprofit to assist. There are plenty of organizations out there that need your help.
Also, remember that going into someone's desk is akin to rifling through his or her purse, wallet or private email. It's poor form, a snoopy intrusion and a violation of privacy. If you poked into other desks in the office, I suspect you'd find other things that might offend you. Stop it.
Now, your take!
Nigel says ... This case study highlights a world of difference in laws and attitudes between the USA and Australia and I am guessing other countries as well. The concept of hand guns in the workplace is so alien in Australia, that it had never occurred to me as a CEO in the nonprofit sector for the last 27 years that someone should even think of bringing a gun to work.
I know of no charities in Australia that even have policies in place banning guns from the workplace. I am pretty sure that had this incident occurred in Australia, the immediate response would have been to evacuate employees, call the police and have the article removed and the person questioned. Of course, a person's right to bear arms in the USA is a constitutional right so things are quite different.
With regard to the privacy issue, I respectfully disagree. Yes, a person's bag is their personal property and privacy should be respected but their desk at work is the property of the organization. In Australia we are increasingly using hot desks - this is where employees take the first available desk when they come in the mornings. If you have personal stuff, keep it at home or in your bag.
littlemike says ... I won't comment on the legal implications of the co-worker leaving his pistol unsecured in his desk , because laws differ so widely from state to state, but as a pistol safety instructor, I teach people the importance of properly securing a firearm, and to protect it from prying eyes and fingers like yours. And I'm pretty sure most employers would consider your unprompted snooping of another employee's belongings to be a particularly inappropriate workplace behavior. I suggest you find another place to work.
Keith R. says ... Being a concealed carry permit holder myself I would make a few observations. The gun owner should keep the gun secured while at work either on his person, in a locked brief case or by locking the gun in the desk. There is no reason anyone should be able to open his or her desk and find an unsecured gun. People do get into other staff person's desks for a variety of reasons: they may need a paper clip or a pen, or perhaps the staff person who is assigned the desk is not there, and a coworker needs to borrow an item.
Reviewing company policies (if there are any) on firearms is certainly advisable, and if the gun is there and in violation of company policies, then the staff person should be advised by a superior that the gun is not allowed in the building. The gun owner can lock the gun in his or her vehicle.
Mike W. says ... While not necessarily illegal, leaving a gun unsecured in a desk was not a smart move, because someone like the snooping co-worker could have taken it. But suggesting that it be left locked in the car are missing the entire point of having the gun in the first place. If a disturbed former worker starts to shoot up the workplace, you don't have the option of saying "please wait while go to my car and get my gun."
While it's possible the person with the gun could be that disturbed former co-worker, it's important to consider the personal judgement and rights of the gun holder before making a scene about it.