United States: New Texas Open Carry Law Has Significant Implications For Employers

On June 13, 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law HB 910, the Texas Open Carry Bill for Concealed Handgun Holders ("Open Carry Law"). The Open Carry Law becomes effective on January 1, 2016. The Open Carry Law expands the scope of a concealed handgun license and authorizes an individual carrying such a license to carry a handgun in plain view in a public place as long as the handgun is carried in a shoulder or belt holster.

The Open Carry Law also adds Penal Code Section 30.07 to establish a new offense for trespassing with an openly carried handgun if a license holder enters another's property without effective consent and: (a) had notice that entry was forbidden, or (b) received notice that remaining on the property was forbidden and failed to depart. A license holder receives notice if an owner or someone with apparent authority to act on the owner's behalf provides notice by verbal or written communication. However, the compliance requirements for a sufficient "written communication" are strict and detailed. The "written communication" may be a card, document or sign posted on the owner's premises. Such a sign would be required to: (a) include Penal Code Section 30.07 language in English and Spanish, (b) have contrasting colors with block letters at least one inch in height, and (c) be conspicuously displayed and clearly visible at each entrance to the property.

The Open Carry Law additionally permits individuals with concealed handgun licenses to carry handguns in plain view in a motor vehicle or watercraft owned by the person as long as the gun is carried in a shoulder or belt holster.

Implications for Texas Employers

This new legislation raises several implications for Texas employers, as it expands individuals' rights from parking lots to company property. Currently, employers may not prohibit employees from storing lawfully possessed firearms and ammunition in vehicles parked in the employer's parking lot (or garage or other lot provided by the employer). Specifically, the 2011 Texas concealed handgun law permits the possessor of a firearm or ammunition to store those items in a locked, privately owned car, as long as the possessor holds a concealed handgun license.

The Open Carry Law, while permitting concealed handgun licensees to openly carry a holstered firearm, also allows public and private employers to prohibit licensees from carrying their firearms onto the "premises" of the business. Under the definition set forth in the Texas Penal Code, "premises" includes "the building or a portion of the building." The term, however, "does not include any public or private driveway, street, sidewalk or walkway, parking lot, parking garage, or other parking area."

One significant omission from the Open Carry Law is that it does not grant employers immunity from civil actions resulting from an occurrence involving the employee and his or her openly carried firearm. The 2011 Texas concealed handgun law expressly included a provision providing employers with such immunity, except in cases of gross negligence. That immunity, however, applied only to firearms and ammunition stored or transported in an employee's vehicle and does not address an occurrence involving an employee who is openly carrying a firearm.

The Open Carry Law, similar to the 2011 legislation, does not create a private cause of action for employees against their employer if the employee contends that his or her right to openly carry has been infringed. Thus, it seems that an employee's only remedy would be to report the employer's alleged violation (e.g., a policy banning firearms from being openly carried) to the Attorney General's office.

In light of this new legislation, employers must decide: (1) whether to allow employees with concealed handgun licenses to openly carry handguns on company premises, and (2) whether to permit visitors, vendors, guests and other third parties to openly carry handguns on company premises. Implementing and enforcing these decisions will require considerable planning, including a determination as to whether any existing company policies need to be updated to comply with the new law.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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