Effective September 1, 2011, many Texas employers may no longer prohibit some employees from keeping guns in their vehicles while parked on company property. On June 17, 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 321, which amends Chapter 52 of the Texas Labor Code and makes it unlawful for a public or private employer to prohibit licensed or legally authorized employees from keeping a firearm or ammunition in a locked, privately owned vehicle in a parking lot, parking garage, or other employer-provided parking area. SB 321 will require many employers to revise the anti-weapon policies that likely have been in place for years.

While SB 321 signals a significant change in Texas law, the bill has important exceptions and restrictions which greatly narrow its scope. For example, the bill does not allow any person, regardless of license or legal authorization, to possess a firearm or ammunition on any property where such possession is prohibited by state or federal law. This includes all public and private schools.  SB 321 also excludes vehicles owned or leased by an employer and used by the employee in the course and scope of the employee’s work. Another important exception involves chemical manufacturers and oil and gas refiners. Specifically, chemical manufacturers and oil and gas refiners with an air authorization under the Clean Air Act and who conduct on-site manufacturing, use, storage, or transportation of hazardous or combustible materials are generally exempted under SB 321 except to the extent that a licensed employee keeps a firearm in a locked vehicle in parking area that is outside of a secured and restricted zone.

Importantly, SB 321 does not prevent an employer from prohibiting firearms on the “premises” of the employer’s business. Here, the bill borrows the definition of “premises” from Section 46.035(f)(3) of the Texas Penal Code, which defines the term as “a building or a portion of a building,” but does not include “any public or private driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area.”

Texas employers who are concerned about the bill’s effect on workplace safety should review their workplace safety policies and procedures and inform employees about their rights and responsibilities.  The law does not place a duty on employers to patrol, inspect, or secure any parking lot, parking garage, employer-provided parking area, or a privately-owned vehicle.  Nor must an employer investigate, confirm, or determine an employee’s compliance with firearm-ownership laws. Furthermore, the bill shields employers from civil liability except in cases of “gross negligence” and expressly states that the presence of a firearm on an employer’s property “does not by itself constitute a failure by the employer to provide a safe workplace.” Perhaps most importantly, employees should know that they are not shielded from personal individual liability for harm or damage caused by their use or their assistance in another’s use of a firearm.