Both chambers of the General Assembly on Monday OK’d bills to grant private-sector workers legal ammunition to fight against being terminated for legally storing a firearm in their vehicle.
HB994/SB1058 passed the Senate 28-5 with all Democrats opposed. It passed the House 78-14, with two members present and not voting.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Mark Green of Clarksville and Rep. Curry Todd of Collierville, both Republicans, gives employees a legal cause of action against their employer if the worker is fired simply for having a gun in their vehicle, which is a right protected under Tennessee law.
The bills are designed to clear up any legal confusion surrounding a 2013 law approved by the General Assembly that allows handgun-carry permit holders to store their firearms in their vehicle while at work — even over the objections of their employers.
According to Todd, the measure is just enhancing the prior “guns-in-trunks” law, which was opposed by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce for going too far and criticized by the Tennessee Firearms Association for not providing enough protections for an employee’s Second Amendment rights. An opinion from former Attorney General Robert Cooper said that under the 2013 law employees could still be terminated for violating workplace rules, including storing a gun in a vehicle on a company’s property.
The legislation passed Monday would provide a cause for an employee terminated for firearm possession to file a civil lawsuit against their employer for wrongful termination. Rep. Todd said, though, that the “burden of proof” would be on the employee to prove that having the weapon was the issue for dismissal, and not another work issue.
Todd said the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce was neutral on the legislation. But according to the AP, following the bill’s passage a state Chamber vice president said the organization had problems with the legislation, which “creates a protected class and erodes Tennessee as an employment at-will state.”
Todd also received pushback on the floor from Lawmakers expressing concern over violated private property rights and frivolous lawsuits by any employee fired for whatever reason, who may just have a firearm in their vehicle.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville questioned what was to stop any employee who’s been fired from using “this new cause of action against any business that they work for.”
He also saw some resistance from fellow Republicans, such as House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Vice Chairman Andy Holt of Dresden.
“I love firearms of all varieties,” Holt said. He added he loves that Tennessee is “an at-will state” even more, and that employers should have the ability to discharge any of their workers “for any reason.”
However, Todd received some support from Ooltewah Republican Mike Carter, a former Hamilton County Judge.
Carter said with Tennessee being a “right to work state,” he didn’t expect to be in support of any legislation that would tamper with that, but Todd’s bill was very well-written in that it “is a proper balancing” of employer and employee rights.
“It requires that person to prove that they were terminated for the sole purpose of carrying a gun in their car, locked up,” Carter said. He added that any other termination would still be lawful.
Following full passage by the General Assembly, the next stop for the measure is Gov. Bill Haslam’s desk, to await his signature.
Todd, sponsor of 2009’s “guns in bars” law, had his carry permit suspended for a year after failing a roadside sobriety test in 2011, and later pleading guilty to driving under the influence and possession of a gun under the influence.
Alex Harris can be contacted at Alex@TNReport.com.