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Suppose I own a business and have lots of employees who come to a location I own, work eight hours, and then leave and go home at the end of the day. An employee points out to me that he is concerned about the emergency alarm system which warns employees at the location about fires, tornadoes, and the like. Am I required to provide such an alarm/notification system to employees and/or other persons who are on the property where my business is located? Specifically:

  • Is it typically required by city/building codes?
  • Is it typically required by labor regulations or OSHA?
  • Do common-law principles requiring that I take reasonable care to ensure the safety of those on my property cover this sort of thing?
  • Where must I make the alarm/notification visible/audible? Certain rooms? Most rooms? All interior areas? All interior areas and immediately outside the building? Do I need something in the parking lot(s) as well? Assume that all of this is my private property.
  • In what ways would I be liable for injury, death and/or loss of property which were reasonably caused by my failure to add alarm/notification systems? Civilly? Criminally?

Does having received or having not received notification from an employee about the dangers of not having such system(s) in place change any of the above?

Bonus points:

  • If the employee pointed this out in good faith, assuming at-will employment, what repercussions (if any) would there be if I terminated said employee?

  • If the employee pointed this out in bad faith, but the complaint is factually correct, does that change (or not) the answer to the above?

EDIT - if a specific locale is required to provide a meaningful answer, let's say Montgomery, AL, USA, commercially zoned near the downtown area within city limits. That said - I would prefer if answers focused on more general principles than only pulling that city's municipal code.

  • What is the jurisdiction? City, State? – BlueDogRanch Mar 3 '16 at 19:29
  • Assume southern US, say, Alabama. – Patrick87 Mar 3 '16 at 19:30
  • Cities and counties all have different local fire codes, states have other laws, while OSHA is federal. – BlueDogRanch Mar 3 '16 at 19:41
  • @BlueDogRanch I can pick a random municipality somewhere, or you can contemplate the varying nature of local fire codes and building ordinances in an answer - either way is fine. Updated question. – Patrick87 Mar 3 '16 at 19:57
  • Does the place have smoke/fire alarms already? Is the employee asking about a general IM/email/phone emergency notification system? If the latter, I'm not sure there's be many regulations or laws put into place yet. – mkennedy Mar 3 '16 at 23:42
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Am I required to provide such an alarm/notification system to employees and/or other persons who are on the property where my business is located?

Yes, by Federal Law. As well as many state and local laws.

The best places to start are http://www.firemarshal.alabama.gov/ and https://www.osha.gov/law-regs.html

Does having received or having not received notification from an employee about the dangers of not having such system(s) in place change any of the above?

You are the employer; you are liable for the lack of legally adequate alarm systems and are required to follow all federal and state fire codes.

In what ways would I be liable for injury, death and/or loss of property which were reasonably caused by my failure to add alarm/notification systems? Civilly? Criminally?

At least criminally, but there could also be civil liability.

If the employee pointed this out in good faith, assuming at-will employment, what repercussions (if any) would there be if I terminated said employee?

Your lawyer can tell you if you could be charged under various whistleblower statutes.

If the employee pointed this out in bad faith, but the complaint is factually correct, does that change (or not) the answer to the above?

Ask your lawyer.

  • Great answer! Do you have anything to say on the more technical question starting "Where must I..."? – Patrick87 Mar 3 '16 at 20:03
  • Those are all very particular to the building itself, the local zoning ordinances and the city; best thing to do is call the local fire marshal and ask. – BlueDogRanch Mar 3 '16 at 20:09
  • A quick scan of the USFA page doesn't show any obvious signs that there are federal laws governing fire alarm systems. – phoog Mar 3 '16 at 21:14
  • @phoog, thanks; why did I link that? Link fixed in answer. – BlueDogRanch Mar 3 '16 at 21:40
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    I'm not suggesting flaunting the law, I'm suggesting fixing any violations immediately by calling in a professional repairman. Of course, if you know your workplace is unsafe, you should shut it down until you can make it safe. If the situation requires reporting (as is likely the case in some well-regulated industries), then certainly report it to the appropriate agency. – Zach Lipton Mar 19 '16 at 17:04

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