Governor Abbott has issued several executive orders related to COVID-19 vaccines. The most recent order — Executive Order GA-40 — was issued on October 11th, 2021. This order expands upon previous orders and prohibits any entity in Texas from requiring any individual to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they have an objection:
No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.
The order does not specify how to report a violation. Regarding enforcement, it prohibits confinement in jail as a penalty and sets the fine to be the maximum amount allowed by Section 418.173 of the Government Code: $1,000.
However, at the federal level, President Biden has issued executive orders mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for federal executive branch workers and federal contractors. In addition, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services will issue emergency regulations requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most health care settings that received Medicare or Medicaid reimbursements.
While not yet in effect, President Biden's COVID-19 Action Plan states that OSHA — the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration — is developing a rule that will require all employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workforce is fully vaccinated or require any workers who remain unvaccinated to produce a negative test result on at least a weekly basis before coming to work.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance to employers stating they can generally require that their employees provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 if the employees are physically present in the workplace:
The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations discussed below. These principles apply if an employee gets the vaccine in the community or from the employer.
The EEOC's guidance also states that, in some circumstances, an employer may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation if an employee cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to a sincerely held religious belief or a disability. An employer may not have to provide a reasonable accommodation if the accommodation would place an “undue hardship” on the employer. Section K.2 has several examples of accommodations for employees.
Our library cannot offer a legal opinion when there is a conflict of law at the state and federal level. It is likely that any conflicting orders and regulations would be settled by a lawsuit.
It is also likely that a lawsuit would be required to settle any possible conflicts between Governor Abbott's Executive Order GA-40 and the fact that Texas is an “employment at will” state. In Texas, employers generally have the right to change the terms and conditions of employment at any time unless an employment contract or law says otherwise. The employer or employee can also end the employment relationship at any time or for any reason — with certain exceptions.
One example of this kind of lawsuit is a recent case out of Houston that was filed by employees of a hospital system that required vaccination. The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal judge. In the court order, the judge said, “If a worker refuses an assignment, changed office, earlier start time, or other directive, he may be properly fired.” See Bridges v. Houston Methodist Hospital.
If you have questions about showing proof of vaccination as a customer, please see our FAQ on “vaccine passports” for more information.