Every employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace. But a Texas law known as the “guns-at-work” or “parking lot” bill that goes into effect Sept. 1 gives gun owners a new right to store a weapon in their vehicle while at work. Where does this law leave employers in Texas? While the law does not allow employees to carry firearms at work, it prohibits public and private employers from enacting and enforcing policies that prevent employees from transporting or storing firearms in their locked, private vehicles while parked on or in an employer-owned parking area. (Parking lots owned by a third party, such as the owner of an office building from which an employer leases space, appear to be excluded from the legislation). Importantly, the law applies to all lawfully owned firearms, not just those owned under a Concealed Handgun License. The Texas Legislature included a number of significant exceptions that apply, for example, to school districts, private schools, certain oil and gas facilities, and employees driving company-owned vehicles. But the exceptions could prove to be difficult for employers to manage, particularly in cases where employees park at multiple work locations, only some of which are covered by an exception. For example, consider the management employee who regularly works in a company-owned parking lot that is covered by the law, but who frequently visits an oil refinery that is subject to an exemption. To avoid confusion, companies will likely need to review their properties to determine which ones are covered by an exemption. Employer immunity While some employers may feel that the law intrudes upon their private property rights, it also provides a limited shield from liability. Unless gross negligence is involved, an employer cannot be sued for damages arising from an incident involving a firearm that is stored according to the provisions of the law. Of course, this protection may be of little relief to an employer who is sued when an angry employee goes out to his or her vehicle and returns to cause harm. Employers may want to consider additional security protections now that employees may very well have access to firearms right outside the office door. By Sept. 1, Texas companies will need to review workplace policies relating to the possession of firearms on company property to ensure compliance with the new law. Other practical steps that Lone Star State employers may also wish to take include: • Identify company-owned facilities that fall under an exception in the statute. • Create a protocol if an employee travels between facilities and is unsure whether he or she can bring a lawfully stored weapon into a particular parking lot. • Work with property management to assess applicable rules for employee parking lots owned by third parties. • Conduct an audit of all workplace violence programs to ensure a comprehensive approach is in place for responding to jokes, threats or a disgruntled worker. Lastly, the law says only that an employer may not “prohibit” employees from storing a lawful firearm in their vehicles. That means employers should be able to keep gun-owning employees from taking their new rights too far, for example by storing a gun in a labeled case on the front seat or in a gun rack. The law would also presumably allow an employer to require that employees identify themselves to the human resources department if they will be keeping a gun in a vehicle parked on a company lot. The new law will likely force employers into rethinking their policies, especially if large numbers of employees take advantage of it. Although no one can predict whether the law will make the workplace more or less safe, it certainly increased the odds of an employee having access to a gun at work. Workforce Management Online, August 2011 -- Register Now!