Employers, Workers and Leaders React to Texas Ban on Vaccine Mandates

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Covid-19 vaccine vials

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently issued a broad executive order essentially banning vaccine mandates in the state—a directive that covers private employers and conflicts with federal requirements. Until the conflict is resolved, many businesses in the state may have to choose between complying with federal or state orders.

In September, President Joe Biden announced the six-part Path Out of the Pandemic. Among other steps, the administration is requiring most federal employees and federal contractors to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but employers will need to explore reasonable accommodations for workers with certain medical and religious objections. Additionally, private employers with at least 100 employees will soon be required to mandate that employees get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. 

The Texas order conflicts with federal directives by broadly allowing people to decline to get vaccinated "for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19." Abbott said, "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced."

Legal experts predict that Abbott's order will be challenged in court and note that judges have generally upheld vaccine mandates, according to The New York Times.

We've rounded up resources and articles from SHRM Online and other trusted outlets on workplace COVID-19 vaccination news.

Mixed Reactions

A group of Houston-based NASA employees gathered to welcome Abbott's executive order and voice opposition to Biden's mandate, saying that the decision to get vaccinated should be left up to the individual. Austin Mayor Steve Adler, however, said Abbott's order is not in the best interest of public health. U.S. Congress members from Texas disagree on whether the ban is appropriate.

"Obviously, some people are resistant if they feel like the government's ordering them to do something," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. However, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, called Abbott's executive order "a real overreach."

(FOX 7 Austin)

American, Southwest Airlines Plan to Proceed with Mandates

American Airlines is the largest U.S. airline and is based in Fort Worth, Texas. The airline's officials are reviewing Abbott's executive order but said they think that Biden's mandate "supersedes any conflicting state laws." Southwest Airlines is also based in Texas. CEO Gary Kelly told ABC News that he doesn't personally agree with mandating vaccines, but Southwest will do its "best to comply" with Biden's order for federal contractors. The two airlines collectively employ about 172,000 workers, according to Bloomberg. 

(Forbes)

IBM to Require Vaccination

Tech giant IBM—which has offices in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio—will maintain its policy that all direct employees of federal contractors must be vaccinated by Dec. 8 unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption. "We will continue to protect the health and safety of IBM employees and clients, and we will continue to follow federal requirements," the company said in a statement to TIME.

(TIME)

White House Responds to Texas Order

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, "We're going to continue to implement the law—which the president of the United States has the ability, the authority, the legal authority to do—and we are going to continue to work to get more people vaccinated, to get out of this pandemic."

(Bloomberg)

More States Push Back on Workplace Vaccination Mandates

In some additional states, bills aim to provide exceptions from federal and employer coronavirus vaccine mandates. Lawmakers in Arkansas, for example, recently sent a bill to the governor's desk that would give workers two options if they choose not to get vaccinated: submit to weekly COVID-19 testing or submit proof biannually of natural antibodies from prior infection. The bill's sponsors said, "Vaccination mandates are an overreach of authority."

Ohio and Texas lawmakers are also considering proposals that would require employers to accept negative COVID-19 tests if they implement vaccination rules. Additionally, Montana prohibits employers from mandating vaccines with only emergency use authorization and prohibits employment discrimination based on vaccination status. 

(SHRM Online)

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