HOUSTON – Time is winding down for companies with 100 or more employees to get their workers fully vaccinated or tested weekly, as part of a new federal mandate.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released its vaccine guidance for about two-thirds of the nation’s private-sector workforce on Thursday.
The agency, which oversees safety in the workplace, is using an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to require businesses with at least 100 employees to require proof of vaccination status or have unvaccinated workers to test weekly for Covid-19, starting January 4, 2022.
The new federal regulations, affecting roughly 84 million people, come after an executive order from President Biden in September. Should an employer fail to meet the requirements they could face nearly $14,000 in fines for each worker who’s out of compliance.
Unvaccinated employees will have to cover the costs of their own weekly testing.
Houston employment attorney Ronald Dupree said the federal mandate would override Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order from October, which prohibits any business from mandating vaccines.
“Businesses that have fewer than 100 employees are not going to be subject to this rule, however, businesses with fewer than 100 employees would still have to follow the guidance that was provided by the governor’s executive order and some of that requires objections to vaccinations to be considered,” Dupree said.
While many employers have embraced the rules, they are drawing criticism across Texas and other Republican-led states.
“Under Biden’s mandate, you don’t really have any rights,” said attorney Jared Woodfill with Woodfill Law Firm. “You either take the experimental shot or you’re fired.”
Woodfill is representing 200 Houston Methodist Hospital healthcare workers who were fired this past June for refusing to take a COVID-19 vaccine, which lacked full FDA approval at the time. The case is now in front of the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Woodfill said.
Now, Woodfill is anticipating a new legal fight between the State of Texas and the Federal Government over OSHA’s vaccine mandate.
“Employers shouldn’t be able to say to you, the federal government shouldn’t be able to say to you, that if you don’t take this shot you’re going to be terminated,” he said.
In a statement to KPRC 2, Governor Abbott said in part, “The Biden Administration left Texans in the impossible position of having to choose between providing for their families or being fired for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Both Dupree and Woodfill said they anticipate lawsuits.
“I think it’s a matter of when the governor, and frankly, other governors and other individuals withstanding will challenge this process,” Dupree said.
“I think that Attorney General Ken Paxton will be filing a lawsuit very soon if he hasn’t already done so, and challenging the federal government’s ability to come in and tell Texans what they can or can’t do,” added Woodfill. “Again this is the big government coming in and saying to states, ‘We want you to do it our way or the highway.’”