Ask the Labor Lawyer #10 - Texas and Vaccine Mandates


Question:  I own a small business in Texas.  We subcontract on federal government projects, which means we are under the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.  Now Governor Abbot is saying we can’t have vaccine mandates.  What do we do?

Response:  Several states, including Texas, Arkansas, and Montana, are fighting back against federal vaccine mandates.  This is good for freedom!  However, businesses in these states may find themselves between a rock and a hard place.  Here are some thoughts that may help as you make tough choices.

  1. Dig into Details.  If you read carefully, you may find that compliance with both Texas and federal law is possible.  Federal law already requires employers to accommodate religious and medical exemptions.  The Texas law is only slightly broader, requiring accommodation for secular personal conscience as well.  (In comparison, the Montana law is much stronger and prohibits all discrimination based on vaccine status, with limited exceptions for health care employers).

  2. Accommodate, accommodate.  I encourage you to be as generous as possible in accommodating religious and medical exemptions.  Try to steer your employees into one or the other exemption categories, which are recognized under both federal and Texas law.  

  3. Count the Costs.  What happens when an employee insists that his or her objection is not religious or medical, but purely for secular conscience reasons?  This is where you must count the costs.   You have chosen to do business on federal government contracts.  You may view these contracts as a great opportunity for your business, perhaps even central to keeping your doors open.  If you refuse to implement the federal vaccine mandate, you may lose the contract.  In comparison, the maximum fine for violating the Texas law is $1,000 (per Texas Government Code 418.173).  I leave it to you to do the math.

  4. Minimize risk.  If you must terminate an employee due to the federal vaccine mandate, you can take steps to minimize risk (and also show kindness to the employee!)  This could include offering severance in exchange for a release agreement, and helping the employee find a new job that does not include federal contract work.

  5. Diversify.  I encourage you to seek business opportunities, other than government contracts, that will allow you freedom on vaccine mandates and other issues.  Perhaps if enough companies do the same, the feds will reconsider their position.

  6. Work for change.  Biden’s federal task force claims that its vaccine mandates trump state law.  It is true that, under Article VI of the Constitution, federal law is supreme.  However, under the Tenth Amendment, federal law is also limited.  When the feds overstep their limits, there is a legal right – some would say a moral obligation – not to comply.  We should expect and support challenges to the federal vaccine mandates.  I encourage you not to let your bottom line corrupt your conscience.

May you be crafty and courageous in your business pursuits,

Laura, the Labor Lawyer 

Please note that this post does not constitute legal advice on your specific situation, and you do not have an attorney-client relationship with Laura.  If you have questions for Laura, please send to  Such questions may be used for general edification in this column.