In 1995, Texas passed a concealed handgun license statute that made it possible for law-abiding Texans to obtain a license to carry a self-defense handgun. In 2007, the Motorist Protection Act was passed making it legal for a person to have a handgun in their car without the necessity of obtaining a Concealed Handgun License (CHL).
The CHL program has been a resounding success. For years, concealed handgun licensees have been fifteen times less likely to commit a crime than is the general public in Texas. This track record is much better than the excellent law enforcement record in this State. Indeed, the program has been so successful that concealed-carry became a non-issue, with one exception – employer parking lots.
Many employers had personnel policies that forbid employees from storing firearms or ammunition in their personal vehicles in the employer’s parking lot. Not only were these policies unnecessary from a safe working environment standpoint, it rendered the employee unarmed and defenseless throughout their entire workday, including their commute to and from home. Then-Senator Glenn Hegar fought hard to bring this injustice to an end when he was finally able to pass SB 321 in 2011. (It had been a hard-fought battle for eight years encompassing four legislative sessions.) This so-called Employer Parking Lot Bill makes it unlawful for an employer to adopt or enforce a policy that forbids employees from storing firearms or ammunition in their personal vehicles in the employer’s parking areas. (There are very narrow exceptions that are not relevant to the subject matter of this article.) This should have brought the issue and to a close, but unfortunately it has not.
The first problem facing employees is the refusal of some employers to comply with Texas law. SB 321 did not create a separate cause of action (lawsuit) that an employee could file against their employer if they were disciplined or terminated for having firearms or ammunition in their personal vehicles. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an attorney general opinion stating that, while there is no separate lawsuit created by SB 321, aggrieved employees could, under certain circumstances, file a declaratory judgment action to determine their rights under the new Employer Parking Lot Law. While this provides some hope for employees when their employers thumb their nose at Texas law, it does not provide a method for obtaining past or lost wages or to correct other disciplinary actions unlawfully taken against the employee.
The only way to correct this problem and to bring recalcitrant employers into compliance with Texas law is to add teeth to the Employer Parking Lot Law by creating a specific cause of action an employee can file against their employer. Employees should be able to recover any lost past and future wages, benefits and job positions they have lost as a result of their employer’s violation of Texas law. They should also be able to recover all attorney fees and other costs of litigation, as well as exemplary damages to discourage employers from continuing to violate the rights of their employees.
Another problem with the Employer Parking Lot Law is the exclusion from its protection two classes of workers, one of which is especially vulnerable to criminal attack while commuting to and from their jobs. The law applies only to W-2 employees (including leased employees) but not independent contractors. There’s no rational basis for denying protection to people who work under a contract rather than being a W-2 employee.
The express terms of the Employer Parking Lot Law exclude primary and secondary school teachers from its protections. This must change! Many teachers are assigned to work in schools located in the highest crime areas in the city and county. This is especially true for recent college graduates who are just beginning their teaching careers. These vulnerable teachers are rendered defenseless from the time they leave home to go to work until they return in the evening. One must wonder why the Texas legislature would ever have left our teachers so helpless.
The Employer Parking Lot Law should be amended to extend coverage to teachers working in primary and secondary schools, as well as persons working for an employer under a contractual agreement or any other arrangement in addition to W-2 employees status.