The Texas House of Representatives has passed SB 7, a bill banning employer COVID vaccine mandates. The bill will go back to the Senate to approve changes made by the House before being sent to Governor Greg Abbott’s desk to sign the bill into law. It is unknown how many employers require proof of COVID vaccination as a condition of employment. If this bill is signed into law, which is almost certain, Texas employers would not be able to require employees or contractors to have a COVID vaccine. This includes current employees and potential new hires.
“No Texan should be fired for whatever reason, whether it’s religious, conscience, or medical, for not getting the vaccine,” said Representative Jeff Leach in an interview with Rudy Koski, Fox 7 in Austin, TX. “Right now, we have employers in the state of Texas that are firing or as a condition for continued employment telling their employees, ‘you have to get a vaccine.'”
In October 2021, Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order to require exemptions for vaccine mandates, effectively banning COVID vaccine mandates in Texas. That executive order stated that it would remain in effect until a more robust law passed the legislature for Abbott to sign.
On May 11, 2023, the Biden Administration ended the COVID public health emergency and the COVID vaccine mandate for federal employees. Private employers did not implement vaccine mandates based on the emergency declaration, so there is still an option for employers to mandate the vaccine based on the “General Duty Clause” from the OSHA Act of 1970. The clause states that employers should provide a work environment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”
While the executive order was supposed to remain in effect, that order lapsed after the Biden Administration ended the public health emergency. That explains the push by the House and Senate to pass this bill to protect employees from being forced to vaccinate to maintain or obtain employment. The General Duty Clause passed in the OSHA bill in 1970 could be used to require employees not vaccinated for COVID-19 to wear a face mask or other protective gear. Under this bill, the legislature wanted to ensure employers still had options to protect their workers.
“All employers want a safe workplace,” Leach said in the interview with Koski. “If you’ve got a certain employee or seven employees that, let’s say, for reasons of conscience or medical reasons or religion, decide I don’t want to be forced to get this vaccine. Then, that employer can work with that employee, with those employees to make reasonable accommodations to either work from home or work from another area of the office, as long as it’s not an adverse employment action. As long as they’re not retaliating for firing that employee, then those employers would still be protected.”
According to the National Academy for State Health Policy, there are only 18 states that require employers to provide exemptions to any COVID vaccine mandate. As of June 30, the remaining states still allow employers to require the COVID vaccine as a condition for employment or contract.
The Texas bill had one modification in the House: to increase the penalty from $10,000 to $50,000 if an employer is mandating the COVID vaccine as a condition of employment. If an employer penalizes a person, otherwise known as an adverse employment action, there would also be grounds for a claim against the company for violating this bill. The Senate will now vote to approve or deny this change in the bill’s language.