As of September 1, 2011, most Texas employers cannot prohibit employees from possessing guns in their locked, personal vehicles on employers’ premises. Texas Senate Bill 321 (“SB 321”) – which Governor Rick Perry signed into law on June 17, 2011, and which goes into effect on September 1, 2011 – restricts public and private employers from prohibiting an employee who holds a concealed handgun license or “who otherwise lawfully possesses a firearm, or who lawfully possesses ammunition” from transporting or storing firearms or ammunition in a locked, privately owned motor vehicle located in a parking lot, parking garage or other parking area the employer provides for the employee. There are exceptions to this prohibition:
- Employees still cannot possess firearms in locations prohibited by state or federal law (e.g., Texas Penal Code § 46.03 prohibits individuals from possessing firearms on school premises, secured areas of airports, polling places, and other locations);
- The prohibition does not apply to: (a) school districts; (b) open-enrollment charter schools; (c) private schools; or (d) non-employer-owned property that is subject to a valid, unexpired oil, gas, or other mineral lease that contains a provision prohibiting the possession of firearms on the property; and
- The prohibition does not apply to property owned or leased by a chemical manufacturer or oil and gas refiner with an air authorization under the Texas Clean Air Act and on which the primary business conducted is the manufacture, use, storage or transportation of hazardous, combustible, or explosive materials, unless the employer’s employee parking lot, parking garage or other parking area is outside of the secured and restricted area that contains the physical plant, is not open to the public and has constant security personnel-monitored access.
While SB 321 restricts employers from prohibiting firearms in locked, personal vehicles, SB 321 contains provisions allowing employers to continue to set some policy boundaries concerning weapon possession. An employer is allowed to prohibit an employee from possessing a firearm in an employer-owned or leased vehicle used by the employee in the course and scope of the employee’s employment. In turn, an employer is allowed to prohibit employees from possessing firearms in the employer’s buildings. Accordingly, employers may continue to implement measures to minimize workplace violence by prohibiting employees from bringing guns into the office.
Finally, SB 321 provides protection for employers regarding claims brought based on employees’ possession or use of firearms or ammunition. SB 321 provides that, except for cases of gross negligence, employers are not liable for personal injury, death, property damage or other damages arising out of an incident involving a firearm or ammunition that SB 321 requires an employer to allow on the employer’s property. Further, SB 321 specifically provides that the presence of a firearm or ammunition on an employer’s property, as required by the statute, does not by itself constitute an employer’s failure to afford a safe workplace and employers do not have a duty to: (1) patrol, inspect or secure parking lots, parking garages or other parking areas provided for employees or privately-owned vehicles located in such areas; or (2) investigate, confirm or determine an employee’s compliance with firearm or ammunition ownership, transportation or storage laws.
SB 321 will be located in Subchapter G of Chapter 52 of the Texas Labor Code. Unlike the other subchapters contained in Texas Labor Code Chapter 52, SB 321 does not define the penalty for violations, making it currently unclear what ramifications, if any, an employer will face for noncompliance with this new firearm law. However, to ensure compliance with this new law, employers should review their policies and postings related to weapons, firearms and ammunition and revise the policies and postings before September 1, 2011 to comply with SB 321.