Businesses will face a choice that they would rather not have to face.
Companies doing business in Texas face new and complicated challenges after Gov. Greg Abbott this week banned COVID-19 vaccine mandates for all entities in the state — including private businesses — for employees or customers.
The ramifications for businesses could begin as soon as Friday, when companies that enter into contract work with the federal government will be required to have all employees vaccinated under orders from the White House.
This conflicts with Abbott’s ban on vaccine mandates, putting the many Texas businesses that receive federal contracts in a tough position: Comply with federal law and violate Abbott’s ban, or comply with Abbott and turn down business from the federal government.
“This harms Texans directly,” Karen Vladeck, an employment lawyer in Austin, said of the new order from Abbott. “I just think it wasn’t well thought out.”
Abbott’s office did not reply to a request for comment.
On top of prohibiting any entity in Texas from requiring vaccinations, Abbott’s order also lists several expanded exemptions. Vladeck and other employment lawyers said that this adds to the vaccine dilemma facing businesses in Texas. Under Abbott’s new rule, people may opt out of a vaccine requirement for medical reasons, including if they prove they have had COVID-19 in the past, despite scientists widely agreeing that this does not protect people against contracting the virus.
“The executive order’s medical reason language is a bit strange because usually you exempt people for medical reasons if they have a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Abbott’s order is “meant to cover people who don’t want to get the vaccine because they believe, quite wrongly, that they’re completely protected by already having COVID.”
Abbott’s rule also allows people to opt out of a vaccine requirement if they prove they hold a deep personal belief against getting jabbed.
Any entity that fails to comply with Abbott’s rule could receive up to a $1,000 fine.
Abbott’s Monday order is a reversal from his position in August, when the Pfizer vaccine received final approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At the time, Abbott’s spokesperson said that businesses had the option of mandating vaccination for employees and “private businesses don’t need government running their business.”
“It’s all about company choice in Texas, except now it’s come to something that they don’t like what the companies are choosing,” Vladeck said. “It puts a big burden on employers.”
See here for the background. So far, businesses that are also federal contractors, including airlines and companies like IBM, will ignore Abbott’s order, while others are awaiting the OSHA rules before making a decision. Multiple business groups, the same organizations that often turn to the state for a legislative solution to local ordinances they don’t like, harshly criticized Abbott’s order for making their lives more difficult. Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee released a statement encouraging businesses that want to be able to get their employees vaccinated to file a lawsuit against Abbott over the order. And in the end, even wingnut talk radio hosts weren’t impressed by Abbott’s order. It’s almost as if he were a weak, gutless leader.