Bradley attorney Stephanie Gaston was interviewed by Fox 26 Houston on Texas businesses caught between state and federal vaccine mandate rules.
“This is confusing for employers, and I might add, it’s frustrating. They are now facing conflicting legal requirements from our state and federal government,” Gaston said. “Abbott’s order says individuals cannot be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but for Texas-based federal contractors, they’re subject to a federal executive order that says you have to have your employees vaccinated to continue to do business with the federal government. And then we’re expecting any day now for our Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue its final rule which would also require large employers with 100 or more employees to require employees to get vaccinated or submit to weekly testing. So, it’s confusing for employers and they’re stuck figuring out what applies to us and which will we comply with.”
This all may be decided in a court of law. Asked what rules take precedent in her opinion, Gaston explained, “I have to say as we sit today, the Biden administration’s and that’s because our U.S. Constitution has a supremacy clause that says federal law is the supreme law of the land and states cannot implement their own conflicting laws. So as long as Biden’s law is valid, now…it is facing legal challenges, but we have to see those out. For now, the federal law is supreme, and it preempts any conflicting state law.”
Businesses who defy Texas state law can faces penalties. She said, “Abbot’s order comes with fines up to $1,000 for violation of that order. It’s not clear from the order how it will be enforced, but it does come with penalties.”
However, defiance of the federal mandate can result in penalties as well.
“If you defy the federal mandate, those employers risk losing a federal contract, losing critical federal funding, or being found in breach of that contract which comes with a whole host of other penalties,” Gaston said.
The federal rule requires all nursing home employees to be vaccinated to continue participating in Medicare and Medicaid.
She said, “If that funding is critical to their operations, and for many it is, they really don’t have a choice. They got to comply with that federal rule that was issued back in August for them, and it says all nursing home employees have to be vaccinated if they’re going to continue to receive that funding.”
There are exemptions on the state and federal side.
“Governor Abbott has expanded those exemptions,” she said. “The executive order for the state says an individual can object to the vaccine based on reasons of personal conscience, religious grounds, or medical reasons, which under that order, includes a prior recovery from COVID-19.”
Federal rule exemptions are more limited than the state rule.
“It’s a sincerely held religious belief or a medical reason or disability,” explained Gaston.
The complete interview, “Texas businesses caught between state and federal vaccine mandate rules,” appeared on Fox 26 Houston on October 14, 2021.