Texas Gov. Abbott signs bill banning private employer COVID-19 vaccine mandates

“It’s long past time to put COVID behind us and restore individual freedom to all Texans,” Abbott said when he signed the bill into law.
Greg Abbott, Austin, Texas, March 15, 2023

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday signed SB 7, which bans private employers from mandating a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment.

The new law bans private employers from adopting or enforcing a COVID-19 mandate “requiring an employee, contractor, applicant for employment, or applicant for a contract position to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment or a contract position.”

It authorizes employees to file complaints about alleged employer violations with the Texas Workforce Commission and imposes a $50,000 fine per violation. It also stipulates that the attorney general may sue violators and provide injunctive relief against them.

“It’s long past time to put COVID behind us and restore individual freedom to all Texans,” Abbott said when he signed the bill into law.

State Sen. Mays Middleton, R-Galveston, the bill’s sponsor, said, “This is the most comprehensive ban on COVID vaccine mandates in the nation. It’s five times stronger than Florida’s bill, which is the next strongest. It covers prospective contractors and prospective employees,” and includes an amendment to protect medical students, fellows and interns.

State Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who carried the bill in the House, says it includes exceptions. “Hospitals can have the ability to not mandate the vaccine, they can do PPE requirements instead. But what the bill is about … is no one, no Texan should lose their job or not be able to get a job because of their decision based on a medical reason of conscience or religion not to get a vaccine. … Our bill is the strongest bill in the nation,” he told Spectrum News 1.

Jackie Schlegal, founder of Texans for Medical Freedom, a major advocate for the bill, said that while some may argue the law doesn’t go far enough, it’s an important first step to return individual liberties back to Texans. She also said she was contacted by three different nurses who said they were returning to the profession because of SB 7.

Many nurses and medical professionals lost their jobs because of private employer mandates, including at Houston Methodist, which was the first hospital in the country to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Roughly 200 employees who were fired for refusing to get the vaccine sued, arguing the requirement violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution. Houston-based attorney Jared Woodfill, who sued Methodist, argued frontline medical professionals who worked during the COVID outbreak were considered heroes. But within a year, they either lost their jobs or faced losing their jobs because they refused to take an experimental drug only approved through Emergency Use Authorization.

“Many of my clients actually contracted COVID as a result of treating COVID-positive patients, and the thank you that Methodist Hospital gave them,” he told The Center Square, was “a pink slip.”

Within two years, many Texas hospitals and medical facilities were facing shortages because of COVID vaccine mandates.

While federal COVID vaccine mandates largely failed in the courts, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the health-care worker mandate. It wouldn’t be until May 2023 that President Joe Biden would lift COVID vaccine requirements that had been imposed on federal employees for two years. He would also end the national emergency three years after former President Donald Trump declared it on March 13, 2020.

On March 16, 2020, former Vice President Mike Pence launched a “15 days to slow the spread” campaign, but lockdown policies would continue for over two years, with countless number of Americans losing their jobs.

Conflict over mandates continued for years in Texas with Abbott issuing executive orders about essential and nonessential businesses and workers, mask and vaccine mandates, social distancing and building capacity limits. In October 2021, he banned private employer vaccine mandates via executive order. This was after he banned mask and vaccine mandates in public institutions and entities that received state funding.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in October 2021 that Texas independent school districts could not impose a COVID vaccine requirement as a condition of employment. And last July, Abbott won a lawsuit in the Fifth Circuit, allowing his ban on school district mask mandates to go in effect.

This year, on July 1, a new law went into effect banning local governments from requiring COVID-related masks, vaccines or business shutdowns. Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, filed SB 29, which the legislature passed earlier this year and Abbott signed into law.