Why the Texas Governor’s Ban on Vaccine Mandates Could Be a Huge Headache for Business Owners

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has banned “any entity” from requiring vaccines–a move that could cause a legal headache for business owners. 

In an executive order issued on Monday, Abbott, who is vaccinated, wrote that “No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer.” The order encouraged Texans to get vaccines but says they must be optional. 

Abbott’s fiat introduces issues of executive authority and conflicts between state and federal guidelines, says Jennifer Spiegel Berman, CEO of Baltimore-based MZQ consulting and an employee benefits lawyer. The fallout, she adds, will be a hassle for business owners. Federal contractors operating in Texas could be violating state regulations by following federal ones, for example.

Recently President Biden has issued several vaccine and testing mandates, one of which is to be implemented through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for companies with more than 100 employees. Both that and Abbott’s executive order are likely to be challenged, and Berman says she wouldn’t be surprised if either goes to the Supreme Court.

The end result: whiplash. “There will be a million lawsuits,” she says. “We’re all kind of scratching our heads.” Her advice for smaller Texas business owners is to “think very carefully” about implementing a vaccine mandate. 

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which has issued a vaccine mandate for employees, tells Inc. in a statement that it plans to follow the federal guidance: “Federal action supersedes any state mandate or law, and we would be expected to comply with the president’s order to remain compliant as a federal contractor.”

Jerome Love anticipates the ban on vaccine mandates is not going to be great for business in Texas. Love is the founder and president of Texas Black Expo, a Houston-based nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship, especially in Black and other minority communities. He also owns several real estate firms. “I think it is a little shortsighted, and I think it really is just a political move,” he says.

Love says that in a time when supply chain issues and shortages related to COVID-19 are crippling businesses, the only way for the economy to recover is for more people to get the vaccine. Failing that, it will be harder for him to raise money for his organization. The ban on vaccine mandates could dampen tourism, he adds. 

At the same time, Love understands vaccine hesitancy. When the vaccine became available, he sought expert medical advice before deciding to get the shot himself. Most of his part- and full-time employees also are vaccinated, so he hasn’t felt the need to issue a mandate. 

Lauren Berk, chief operating officer at Dallas-based Wello, a company that provides technology for workplace health and OSHA compliance, says that the ban is going to make safety more challenging for companies. Still, Wello does not have a vaccine mandate. Instead management has tried to encourage employees to get vaccinated through measures like requiring the shot for business travel, which many view as a perk of their jobs.

Wello also provides tools for companies to track vaccination status of employees and other people in company buildings. Of late, interest in it has been “overwhelming,” Berk says. It reflects what she sees as confusion over compliance issues surrounding vaccine and testing mandates. 

Love can relate. With all the rules and regulations, he says, he’s going to have to sit down with HR before completing his next hires.

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