Beginning March 21, 2017, businesses in Ohio will no longer be permitted to ban handguns from all company property. Senate Bill 199 (SB 199), signed by Governor John Kasich on December 19, 2016, precludes private employers from adopting policies that prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting, employees and others with a valid concealed handgun license (CHL) from transporting and storing his or her firearm (or ammunition) in a personal vehicle in an employer’s’ parking lot. Prior to SB 199, employers in Ohio were free to ban guns on their property, including in parking lots. SB 199 also expands the right of public and private Ohio colleges and universities to decide whether to permit concealed carry on their campuses.

Pre-Senate Bill 199 Concealed Carry Rules

Prior to SB 199, most private employers had the authority to decide whether to ban firearms in the workplace, including in their parking areas. This applied equally to those with a valid CHL. Under Ohio’s old rules, public and private colleges, universities, or other institutions of higher education did not have discretion whether to permit the presence of firearms on campus, with the exception of allowing individuals with a valid CHL to transport and store a handgun locked in a vehicle on campus.

Senate Bill 199’s Changes to Concealed Carry Rules for Employers

The amended law, codified as Ohio Revised Code § 2923.1210, now permits employees with a valid CHL to possess, transport or store a firearm and/or ammunition on an employer or business owner’s premises when both of the following conditions are met:

  1. Each firearm and all of the ammunition must remain inside the employee’s privately owned motor vehicle while the person is physically present inside the motor vehicle, or each firearm and all of the ammunition must be locked in the trunk, glove box or other enclosed compartment or container within or on the person’s privately owned motor vehicle; and
  2. The vehicle must be in a location where it is otherwise permitted to be, such as a company parking lot.

With the change in the law, many Ohio employers’ policies, procedures and handbooks are now out of compliance. Accordingly, employers with operations in Ohio who presently have a “no weapons” policy should revisit this policy with the assistance of legal counsel to assure they are in compliance with the changes to the law. Although employers may not, under the amended law, prohibit possession and storage of a firearm and ammunition in a vehicle consistent with the above, business and property owners may post signage in a conspicuous location on the premises prohibiting individuals, including those with a valid CHL, from carrying firearms on or in the premises.

Senate Bill 199’s Changes to Concealed Carry Rules for Colleges, Universities and Institutions of Higher Education

Senate Bill 199 also expands the right of public and private Ohio colleges and universities to exercise discretion and determine whether to permit concealed carry on their campuses. These institutions of higher learning are still required to allow valid CHL holders to transport and store firearms in vehicles on campus. Although the default rule remains a ban on concealed carry on campus (aside from a vehicle), SB 199 authorizes the board of trustees or the governing body of the institution to vote to allow or disallow concealed carry on campus for those who hold a valid CHL. SB 199 also grants the governing body the authority to permit only certain groups or classes of individuals—such as faculty and staff—to carry a concealed handgun on campus.

Limitations and Uncertainties of SB 199

Unfortunately for Ohio employers and business owners, there are limitations and uncertainties in SB 199. Namely, SB 199 does not define what types of policies may have the effect of prohibiting a CHL holder from keeping a firearm or ammunition in their private vehicle. Given this limitation, it remains unclear whether a policy requiring an employee to disclose the presence of a firearm in his or her vehicle, or requiring an employee to show proof of a valid CHL, or requiring proof that the weapon is in fact stored in a locked container in the vehicle would have the effect of prohibiting a valid CHL holder from exercising his or her rights under the law.

Moreover, SB 199 does not specify how an employer or business owner should address the situation were it to discover an individual has transported or stored a weapon or ammunition on its premises in a manner inconsistent with the above. For instance, SB 199 does not provide guidance to employers or business owners on how to address the scenario if it were to discover an employee or other person has transported or stored a weapon or ammunition in an unlocked personal vehicle or in plain view and not in a locked storage container.

Last, it remains equally unclear what remedies an employee or individual may be entitled to if an employer or business owner were to violate SB 199. The legislature declined to pass a prior iteration of SB 199 that would have made CHL holders who store firearms and ammunition in their personal vehicle a “protected class” subject to anti-discrimination laws, so the likely remedy would be based on public policy.

For now, employers and business owners should monitor developments with legal counsel so they may take the appropriate steps to adjust policies and procedures as new guidance becomes available.