On January 1, 2016 the new open carry law goes into effect across Texas. You may have seen coverage of the open carry protests around Fort Worth, Dallas and other cities. Much of that coverage was over people openly carrying assault rifles. The new open carry law does not change the status of long guns, rather it extends the rights to carry handguns. Although the open carry law is not explicitly an employment issue it will affect most employees in Texas because most workplaces will becomes subject to open carry rights in addition to existing handgun possession rights in most places of employment. Today’s post will discuss the existing employment handgun law, how the new open carry law will affect employment and what to do with your employment as it relates to handgun possession.
Brief Summary of the 2016 Open Carry Law in Texas
The new open carry law effective transforms the concealed carry license to an open carry license in public places. Under Texas law carrying a handgun outside of your home is generally illegal unless you have an appropriate license. Prior to 2016 a private citizen was generally limited to carrying handguns under a concealed carry license. The new open carry law changes the concealed handgun license (CHL) to a license to carry (LTC). An LTC permits visible possession of a handgun so long as the gun is within a belt or shoulder holster. Open possession of a long gun is acceptable without a license in a nonthreatening manner.
The new open carry law and LTC does not create an absolute right to carry handguns. The limits on where a handgun under a CHL generally remain intact for the LTC. Additionally, the new law sets standards how an owner of a building can regulate handgun possession. An owner can put up a sign that prohibits open carry, concealed carry, or both. The Texas Penal Code sets out specific standards the signs must meet.
If the signs meet these requirements then an individual carrying can receive citations and imprisonment. If signs conforming to these requirements are posted then the building owner can still give oral notice. Oral notice must be given before the police can cite the individual for possession. With compliant signs there is no other notice required.
Most employees should expect that their employer will prohibit them from carrying handguns in the workplace. Employers typically do not want the added liability of employees carrying guns. Employers are especially sensitive to this scenario because they could find themselves liable for the acts of the employee. Even dealing with a lawsuit that the employer ultimately wins could be an expensive affair. However, employers do not have unlimited authority under Texas law to prohibit employees from possessing handguns anywhere on its property.
Handgun Possession under the Texas Labor Code
Chapter 52 of the Texas Labor Code requires most employers to allow employees with an appropriate license to possess handguns in a locked personal car on the employer’s property in an employee parking area. The handgun must remain concealed from view, such as in the trunk or glove box. Prior to 2016 this possession opportunity was available to any individual with a CHL. With the new LTC any individual with an LTC may retain their handgun within their parked vehicle. The handgun must still remain concealed within the parked vehicle.
There are exceptions under the Texas Labor Code that allow employers to prohibit possessing handguns within the locked car. These include:
- Any location where federal or state law prohibits gun possession;
- A school district, charter school, or private school;
- Employment on property not owned by the employer but subject to an oil or gas lease that prohibits possessing firearms on the property;
- The secured or restricted areas of most chemical manufacturer or refinery plants; and
- When the employer owns or leases the vehicle in question except when possessing the gun is necessary as part of the employee’s job.
If the settings do not meet these limited exceptions then an employee with an LTC can possess a concealed handgun within his or her personal, locked car in the employer’s parking area. This is true even if the employer has a zero tolerance policy for weapons or firearms on the property.
Dealing with Your Employer and Handgun Possession in Texas
Whether you believe employees should or should not possess handguns at work is a matter of your personal opinion. If you intend to possess a handgun or are concerned with other employees possessing handguns at work then your first step is to review your employer’s policies on handguns in the workplace. Your employer’s policies may sufficiently address the issue. If you want to bring a handgun to work you should talk to an attorney about whether having the gun at the workplace may violate the law or your employer’s policies. If it is only a matter of your employer’s policies then you may want to talk to your employer about changing the policies.
Alternatively, if you desire a gun-free workplace then you should talk to your employer about taking steps to limit possession at work to the least amount required by law and post appropriate notice of policies otherwise prohibiting possession.
If you want to approach your employer about changing policy then you should talk to your coworkers first. Showing workforce alignment on making this change has a couple benefits. First, the employer is more likely to take the issue seriously. Second, by working with your coworkers you invoke the protections under the National Labor Relations Act that protect the rights of employees to work together to change workplace conditions, including workplace policies. It doesn’t mean the employer must do what you ask but you cannot be disciplined, fired, demoted, or otherwise suffer an adverse employment action due to the employer’s disagreement with your proposed policy change.