HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Governor Greg Abbott banned private businesses in Texas from COVID-19 vaccine requirements, but some legal experts said the order has left the business community confused.
EXECUTIVE ORDER BANS COVID-19 VACCINE REQUIREMENTS, EVEN FOR PRIVATE BUSINESSES
On Monday, Abbott signed the executive order. It bans entities, including private businesses, from mandating the COVID-19 vaccine.
Abbott said he wanted to prevent bullying mandates from the federal government forcing many businesses from instituting the vaccine requirement.
The governor's press secretary, Renae Eze, released the following statement:
"Governor Abbott has talked to countless Texans who are worried about losing their jobs because of this federal overreach. The Biden Administration has left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID vaccine because of their religious belief, medical condition, or personal conscience. And they have left employers with the unfair choice of either violating federal regulations or losing their valued employees. The Governor's executive order will help protect Texans from having to make that choice."
President Joe Biden has asked the federal government to develop a rule requiring employers with more than 100 workers to either have employees vaccinated or tested weekly. Right now, OSHA is working on the rule, and it's expected in weeks.
THE TEXAS ORDER HAS LEFT SOME IN THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY CONFUSED
Labor attorney David Quan said he received calls Tuesday from both owners and employees about the governor's order.
"I think unfortunately, there's a lack of certainty right now," Quan said. "The landscape is very confused."
Quan said employers had implemented their own vaccine requirement prior to the federal government rule. Despite the governor's order, Quan advised employers not to change plans.
"Right now, do what you're doing and be prepared to be flexible," Quan said.
He said he believes the order will be challenged in court and could be superseded by the federal government's rule.
"I would expect we'll probably see an announcement of a suit within the next day or two," Quan said.
As of right now, Quan said if your employer asks for COVID-19 vaccination proof, you don't have to show it. However, if you're holding out, if a court changes things, you could be made to show proof.
EXECUTIVE ORDER ALREADY BEING USED TO REINSTATE FIRED HOSPITAL WORKERS
This summer, more than 150 Houston Methodist employees lost their jobs when they didn't comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. A judge upheld the requirement.
However, attorney Jared Woodfill, who represents some of those fired employees, sent a letter to the hospital today. In it, the attorney cites the governor's order and asked for the employees to be immediately reinstated.
A Houston Methodist spokesperson told ABC 13, "Mr. Woodfill and his clients had their day in court. As Judge Lynn Hughes stated, Houston Methodist did not coerce his clients to get the COVID-19 vaccine. His clients were free to decline the COVID-19 vaccine and work somewhere else. At Houston Methodist, the safety of our patients and employees is paramount. As health care workers we've taken a sacred oath to "do no harm." Part of that oath means doing everything possible to prevent the spread of disease - something we know the vaccines are very good at doing. We are proud of our employees and physicians who are 100% compliant with our policy and made their decisions for our patients. Houston Methodist has no intention of reinstating any employees who do not hold these values."
Quan believes the order could give the hospital workers another opportunity in court to get their jobs back.
DEMOCRATS POUNCE ON THE ORDER AND COME TO THE DEFENSE OF PRIVATE BUSINESSES
It didn't take long for Democrats to attack Abbott's order. On social media, Beto O'Rourke said, "Abbott is killing the people of Texas," with this order. Mike Collier, a Democratic candidate running against Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, said owners should have the ability to require the COVID-19 vaccine if they want.
"Politicizing vaccines as they're doing, and politicizing COVID as they're doing to win their primaries, is absolutely reprehensible and telling CEOs how to run their companies, that's not something that Texas politicians should be doing," Collier said.
More state lawmakers will weigh in on this matter soon. On Tuesday, the Texas Senate added the issue to the special session agenda.
ABC13 contacted Patrick's press secretary about the order, but we didn't hear back.
Patrick shared his thoughts on social media writing, "I've consistently said taking the COVID vax is a personal decision and should never be forced on anyone by the state or a private employer. Now that it's on the call, the Senate will move swiftly to take up this matter."