This article was originally published in the Weiss Berzowski Brady quarterly newsletter “The WBB Reporter.” It has been included in the blog as a timely topic. The entire newsletter may be found here.
Post by James S. Swiderski
On November 1, 2011, Wisconsin became the 49th state in the U.S. to allow the lawful carrying of concealed weapons. The law presents both challenges and opportunities for Wisconsin employers and business owners.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice is required to issue a concealed carry license to any applicant who is a Wisconsin resident at least 21 years old, passes a background check, and meets certain other statutory requirements including proving he or she has taken a qualifying training class. A “weapon” is defined under the law as “a handgun, an electric weapon [such as a stun gun], …a knife other than a switchblade knife…, or a billy club.” Section 175.60(1)(j), Wis. Stats. Generally speaking, a weapon is considered concealed if it is out of plain view sight. Licensed individuals are permitted to carry concealed weapons anywhere within the State of Wisconsin except where prohibited including police stations, courthouses, and beyond security checkpoints in airports. The penalty for violating the concealed carry prohibitions is a fine of $500, up to thirty (30) days in prison, or both.
Employers in Wisconsin can prohibit their employees who are licensed to carry concealed weapons from doing so in the course of their employment with the employer. At the same time, such employers can not prohibit their licensed employees from carrying a concealed weapon or ammunition in the employee’s car, even if the employee must use the vehicle in the course of his or her employment, or the vehicle is driven or parked on the employer’s property, including a parking lot.
Similarly, Wisconsin property and business owners can prohibit their guests and invitees from carrying concealed weapons on property they own or lease. In order to do so, the owner or occupant of a property must post a sign that is at least 5 x 7 inches and is located either in a prominent place near all of the entrances to the part of the building to which the restriction applies or near all probable access points to the grounds to which the restriction applies. Separate rules govern the posting of signs prohibiting carrying concealed weapons on land of 40 acres or more. While the law does not require that specific language be used in or on the sign, at a minimum, a sign should inform individuals that concealed weapons or firearms are prohibited on the premises.
The presumption under the Wisconsin concealed carry law is that employers and property owners will choose to allow their employees and guests to carry concealed weapons in the workplace and on their premises. In return for allowing such weapons, a Wisconsin employer or property owner who does not prohibit the concealed carry of weapons on property owned or occupied by such employer or owner “is immune from any liability arising from its decision” to allow such weapons. Sections 175.60(21)(b)-(c), Wis. Stats. This broad statutory immunity from liability is not afforded to those who prohibit the carrying of concealed weapons on their premises.
In order to permit the concealed carry of weapons on property one owns or occupies, he or she need not do anything. However, to prohibit the concealed carry of weapons on property, one must determine where signs are required and post them. Employers in Wisconsin who wish to prohibit their employees from carrying concealed weapons in the workplace and in the course of their employment with the employer should have a weapons policy crafted for the employer’s handbook forbidding the possession or carrying of such weapons, notify their employees of such policy, and consistently enforce the policy.