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Exploring the rights employees have around vaccine mandates

Posted at 6:14 PM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 19:14:33-04

A number of companies have begun mandating the COVID vaccine for employees following the Pfizer vaccine receiving full FDA approval.

As companies begin mandating COVID-19 vaccinations many Texans are now asking what rights they have if their company does require the vaccine.

Although vaccine mandates might seem unprecedented, companies mandating vaccines are actually common practice.

"Employers may, for the safety of their employees or their consumers, require certain things," said Patricia Wilson, Baylor Law School associate dean and professor. "So, the idea that this is something new, it’s really not.”

New practice or not, private companies have the ability to require employees to get vaccinated as conditions of employment.

Private companies have leeway when it comes to conditions of employment, especially in states like Texas.

"We are an employment-at-will state and employment-at-will gives employers lots of flexibility and control about what happens with their employees,” said Wilson.

Even though private companies have the choice to mandate vaccines, they still have to follow laws that allow for religious, medical, and disability exceptions.

"If you have a disability that prevents you from being able to get the vaccine, or [if] the vaccine would cause more harm than good, then the company is going to have to provide you with a reasonable accommodation for not getting that vaccine,” said Colin Walsh, employment law attorney.

They also have to follow discrimination laws and apply the vaccine policy to the entire company - not just certain employees.

”For example, a company wouldn’t be able to say, only women are required to get the vaccine," said Walsh. "That would be sex discrimination. Or, say only certain races need to get the vaccine. That would be race discrimination.”

Even though companies are required to make accommodations for things like disabilities, they may still be able to require vaccinations if they claim it is a risk.

"Even with a disability that would prevent which would prevent somebody from getting vaccinated, the employer may still be able to say, there is still a greater risk," said Wilson. "So, yes you have a disability that normally would be accommodated but, not in this situation."

Private companies have more leeway to mandate vaccines than government-affiliated companies and agencies in Texas.

Those companies are subject to stricter adherence to policies that pertain to things like religious freedoms, which private companies are not subject to in Texas.