It’s a new year and that comes with new laws going into effect in Texas. Of particular note, is the law that Governor Abbott signed in November 2023 expanding a prior law that prohibited state and local government in Texas from imposing vaccine mandates. In a third Special Session, the law was expanded to include private employers. The law officially goes into effect on February 6, 2024, but prior to the law going into effect it is important to note the specific ways it impacts employees in Texas.
Texas at its core is an at-will state, which means that even without this law, an employee being required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine could resign at-will. However, this new section of the Texas Health and Safety Code imposes administrative penalties for vaccine mandates imposed by private employers. The law applies to any employer employing one or more employees. In addition, the law forbids the adoption or enforcement of a requirement that an employee or contractor (including applicants) be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment. This means that private employers cannot add vaccination as a requirement for employment, but there’s an exception for healthcare facilities, providers and physicians.
Healthcare facilities like a hospital, healthcare providers and physicians like doctors or nurses, are allowed to enforce reasonable policies requiring the use of protective medical equipment for those employees or contractors that are not vaccinated against COVID-19. The allowance is mitigated by the level of risk presented to the patients based on the person’s routine and interactions with patients. This type of policy being enforced is explicitly excluded from the definition of adverse action under the new law – this means that employees/contractors at healthcare facilities can maintain their right to not be vaccinated, but still be required to take proper safety precautions. The law only makes an exception for these types of facilities.
Further, the law is set to be enforced through the Texas Workforce Commission, which means there is no private right of action under the law. What this means for employees, is that there is an administrative requirement for any violations to be reported directly to the Texas Workforce Commission. The Texas Workforce Commission is also directed to determine the reasonableness of healthcare facility policies. The attorney general can also be brought in to file for injunctive relief on behalf of the complainant as well as an administrative penalty can be assessed by the Texas Workforce Commission unless the employer makes strides to remedy and comply with the law.
As an employee in Texas, it is always important to be able to know and understand the rights afforded to you under new laws that are passed. If you think an employer has violated the law, provided the violation occurs after the effective date, then you should consider filing with the Texas Workforce Commission by submitting your name, the employer’s name and details as to what happened to cause the violation. If your employer has taken action prior to this date because of a COVID-19 vaccination requirement, this law may not apply. However, it does not mean that there are no remedies available – especially if there is a sincerely held religious belief underlying your refusal to receive a vaccination. This law has gone into effect and the changes may apply to your job situation – if you would like more information relating to your rights and possible remedies available to you under the law it would be helpful to reach out to an attorney to discuss your options and situation.