On August 11, 2021, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued an order requiring masks in Dallas County businesses, schools, and county buildings. Judge Jenkins’ order comes on the heels of a Dallas County state court issuing a temporary restraining order of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s July 29, 2021 order barring mask mandates by local governmental entities. The future of the Dallas County order is unclear with a permanent injunction hearing set for August 24, 2021 and Governor Abbott already filing a petition with the Fifth Court of Appeals of Texas challenging the order.
Under the Dallas County order, all commercial entities providing goods or services to the public must implement a health and safety policy that, at minimum, requires “universal indoor masking for all employees and visitors” and that may include other mitigating measures designed to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Given the breadth of the order’s definition of “commercial entities,” the order arguably applies to all Dallas County employers, not just employers with worksites that are open to the general public. Businesses must post their health and safety policy in a “conspicuous location sufficient to provide notice to employees and visitors.” The Dallas County order took effect at 11:59 p.m. on August 11, 2021, and businesses have three calendar days from the effective date (i.e., until Saturday, August 14, 2021) to comply. Violations of the order may result in a fine of up to $1,000 per violation.
The rapidly changing legal landscape is one of the biggest risks facing employers as COVID-19 transmission levels ebb and flow. Employers should endeavor to adjust their workplace policies on short notice – three calendar days in this instance – to comply with health and safety requirements. Businesses should consult legal counsel to ensure compliance with state and local requirements related to COVID-19.