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Termination for Possession of Gun Upheld

On April 17, 2015, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Stewart v. FedEx Express, No. 1104 WDA 2014 (Pa. Super. 2015), dismissed a claim for wrongful discharge brought by an employee who was terminated for having a gun in his car. The employee had the gun in his glove compartment while he was transporting another employee from one company office to another. He had a valid license to carry firearms.

The company had a policy forbidding firearms or weapons on company property, in company vehicles, or in corporate buildings. The employee was terminated because of the gun in his glove compartment. He argued that he was wrongfully terminated, and that his termination violated the Pennsylvania public policy of the right to bear arms, as found in the Pennsylvania Constitution and in the Pennsylvania Crimes Code.

The court first noted that, under Pennsylvania’s at-will employment doctrine, unless there is a statutory or contractual provision to the contrary, either party may terminate an employment relationship for any lawful reason or no reason at all. It then noted that Pennsylvania has allowed claims of wrongful discharge in violation of public policy only in very narrow circumstances, such as when an employee was terminated for filing a claim for worker’s compensation or unemployment compensation; for failing to submit to an unlawful polygraph test; for complying with a statutory reporting duty; and for serving jury duty.

The court summarized that employers cannot: (1) require an employee to commit a crime; (2) prevent an employee from complying with a duty imposed by statute; and (3) terminate an employee when a statute specifically prohibits it. The court held that, outside these three areas, a court may find a public policy exception to at-will employment only where the action “‘is so obviously for or against public health, safety, morals, or welfare that there is a virtual unanimity of opinion in regard to it.'” Stewart v. FedEx Express, No. 1104 WDA 2014 (quoting Weaver v. Harpster, 601 Pa. 488, 975 A.2d 555, 563 (2009)).

The court noted that previous case law had confirmed that neither the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution nor the Pennsylvania Constitution gives the right to carry a concealed gun or transport a loaded gun in a vehicle. The employee also attempted to argue that a public policy was created by a provision of the Crimes Code that criminalizes the carrying of a gun in a vehicle without a license. The court held that this provision also did not support the employee’s argument.

Accordingly, the court held that the employee had not shown any public policy implicated by his termination. Therefore, his claim for wrongful discharge could not stand.

What Does This Mean For You? Pennsylvania remains an at-will employment state, where employees without employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements may be terminated for any lawful reason or no reason at all. This case upholds the right of Pennsylvania employers to have policies banning firearms at work, unless Pennsylvania enacts legislation to the contrary.

If you have any questions about this or any other employment or labor law issue, please contact Whitney Rahman at (717) 509-7237 or swr@blakingerthomas.com.

**This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or as creating an attorney-client relationship where one does not already exist**