A new law prohibits private employers from adopting or enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandates. This law covers employees, contractors, and applicants. These restrictions are in Senate Bill 7, which adds Chapter 81D to the Texas Health & Safety Code. The law goes into effect February 6th, 2024.
Employers cannot take an "adverse action" against unvaccinated employees, contractors, or applicants. This term is defined in Section 81D.001:
(1)"Adverse action" means an action taken by an employer that a reasonable person would consider was for the purpose of punishing, alienating, or otherwise- adversely affecting an employee, contractor, applicant for employment, or applicant for a contract position.
There is an exception for certain health care facilities, providers, and physicians. These groups can require unvaccinated employees and contractors to wear protective medical equipment. See Section 81D.0035(b) for more details.
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) takes complaints about violations of this law. TWC can:
Federal guidance differs from Texas law. Private businesses may still implement policies requiring workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is according to guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC enforces federal employment discrimination laws. The agency issued employer guidance on COVID-19 vaccination requirements for workers. The guidance generally supports an employer's ability to implement vaccine requirements for employees:
The federal EEO laws do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, subject to the reasonable accommodation provisions of Title VII and the ADA and other EEO considerations [...]
There are certain restrictions based on federal discrimination and disability laws. Some employees who aren't vaccinated may be eligible for reasonable accommodations:
The ADA and Title VII require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who, because of a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance, do not get vaccinated against COVID-19, unless providing an accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
Private businesses still have the right to require masks for customers and employees, but most state and local government entities can no longer do so.
Governor Abbott's Executive Order No. GA-38 states the following regarding a private business's ability to require masks:
In providing or obtaining services, every person (including individuals, businesses, and other legal entities) is strongly encouraged to use good-faith efforts and available resources to follow the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) health recommendations, found at www.dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus
Generally speaking, a business can set their own rules and policies — similar to a “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rule — as long as they do not discriminate against a protected class of people (e.g., on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or disability). Please see the Disabilities & Mask Requirements box on this page for information about requesting accommodations related to a disability.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (see FAQ G.2) an employer can require employees to wear protective gear (such as face coverings or gloves). Employees may make a request for a reasonable accommodation under the ADA or a religious accommodation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (such as a modified mask that can be worn with a religious head covering). Employers should provide the modification or an alternative modification unless it would create an “undue hardship” for the employer.
We have not been able to locate any Texas laws or federal laws that place restrictions on testing for COVID-19. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidance to employers that addresses testing. Please see our Legal FAQ Can an employer require me to show proof of a COVID-19 test? for more details.
There is no state or federal law that requires an employer to provide paid leave to their employees. Legislation in the beginning of the pandemic required employers to offer paid leave for COVID-19, but this expired in 2020.
Whether you are eligible for paid leave likely depends on your employer's policies.
Some employees may qualify for unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law requires employers to offer unpaid leave to their employees for certain medical and family reasons.
It's important to talk to your workplace about what you qualify for. Be sure to check with an attorney if you have questions about qualifying for medical leave during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy working environment for their employees at all times and are expected to take certain safety precautions to protect workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Below are links to guidance from several federal agencies that detail how workplaces can take various health and safety measures to limit workers' exposure to COVID-19.