EMPLOYMENT LAW UPDATE Under Oklahoma’s new ‘Open Carry’ law, employers can keep workplace gun-free

Yesterday, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed into law a measure (Senate Bill 1733) which will allow licensed Oklahomans to carry unconcealed handguns — “open carry” — in a wide variety of circumstances. The law goes into effect November 1, 2012.

While working its way through the Legislature, Oklahoma’s “Open Carry” bill received a lot of media coverage. Despite all the attention, there are many misconceptions about what the law allows. Some employees may believe they will now have the right to carry guns while at work. This is incorrect, and employers should be prepared to respond immediately.

The Oklahoma Self-Defense Act (PDF) provides for the issuance of handgun licenses to qualifying Oklahomans and spells out the parameters and restrictions governed by the Act. Under the new law amending that Act, those who have a valid handgun license will now have the right to carry a handgun, concealed or unconcealed (“open carry”), in many public locations beginning November 1.

However, there remain some important exceptions to this right. Licensed individuals are prohibited from carrying handguns inside government buildings, on school property and in most of areas of college campuses, at sports venues and a few other specified facilities.

Another important provision that did not change under the new law is that Oklahoma businesses still have the right to prohibit any and all weapons in their buildings. This includes the right for employers to implement and enforce policies that prohibit employees who are licensed to carry from bringing a handgun, concealed or unconcealed, into the workplace. Keep in mind employees still have the right to store guns inside a locked vehicle on the employer’s parking lot.

Employers should anticipate that some employees may think they soon will be able to bring guns to work, so long as they are licensed. Now is the time to set the record straight. If you do not already have one in place, consider adopting and publishing a policy banning any and all weapons from your workplace. If you have a no-weapons rule in effect, now is an excellent time to remind your employees about the policy and to explain that the new law will not affect or change your no-weapons rule.