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April 7, 2016

Emergencies in the Workplace

In light of the recent tragedies, you may be wondering what policies, if any, you should have in place to deal with not only workplace violence, but other types of emergencies such as those related to weather or a fire. We often have employers admit that their employee handbook is a “form” they found on the internet or someone gave them another company’s employee handbook and they just inserted their company’s name in place of all of the references to the other company in the handbook.

Unfortunately, this is not a situation where “one size fits all.” Each state typically has its own employment laws, so the form being used may have provisions that are illegal in Kansas. Even if the handbook was drafted based upon then-current state and federal laws, those laws change over time and the provisions may be out of date.

Finally, product innovation and technological changes lead to circumstances not contemplated when a handbook was initially drafted. For example, in updating existing employee handbooks, we make sure to modify the smoking policy to address the use of electronic cigarettes.

Handgun Policies

Since workplace violence is currently a hot topic, you may be wondering what you may allow or prohibit with regard to your employees bringing handguns to work or with regard to customers and other third parties entering your business. Pursuant to the Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act, private employers may prohibit all handguns from their property, prohibit only openly carried handguns or prohibit only concealed carried handguns by posting specific signage. Examples and the posting requirements may be obtained from the Kansas Attorney General’s website at ag.ks.gov.

In addition, private employers may have personnel policies regulating or banning employees from carrying concealed handguns while working for the employer, whether the employee is on the employer’s property or working offsite. The only exception is that a private employer cannot prohibit an employee from having a handgun in the employee’s vehicle, even if the employee’s vehicle is on the employer’s property.

Factors to Consider for Your Employment Policies

In determining the appropriate handgun policy to have in place for your company, as well as other employment policies, here are a few factors to consider:

  • (i) What type of business do you operate? For example, a manufacturing business is operated very differently from a retail business.
  • (ii) Is your business open to the public? If you have employees as well as customers in your facility, it may be more important to have policies in place regarding evacuation in the event of a fire or where to go if a tornado is approaching. With regard to handguns, you may not be worried about your employees bringing guns to work but do not want customers carrying guns.
  • (iii) How many employees do you have and how large is your facility? A large manufacturing business with thousands of employees and multiple entrances is going to have different issues than a small retail store with only a handful of employees and one or two entrances.

Employment Practices

While employment policies provide guidance to current employees, having hiring procedures in place and taking time to screen applicants can help avoid hiring problem employees. With regard to your hiring procedures, do you require every applicant to fill out an application so that you are obtaining the same information with sufficient details for each applicant? For example, it is easier to hide employment gaps in a resume than in an application form that requires specific dates. If an applicant does not complete the application, do you make sure the interviewer follows up to obtain the missing information or an explanation? Has your interviewer been trained regarding interview techniques?

Sabrina Standifer, on behalf of Morris Laing’s Employment Law Department