On November 8, 2021, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed into law an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act (the Act) that will prevent employees from relying on the Act to avoid employer COVID-19 vaccine or testing mandates. The amendment goes into effect on June 1, 2022.

Overview of the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act

The Act was first passed in 1977 and was meant to protect from discrimination health care workers who participated in, or refused to participate in, the delivery or receipt of health care services that were “contrary to their conscience.”

Recently, however, some non-health care workers in Illinois have relied on the Act to claim an exemption from their employers’ COVID-19 vaccination or testing requirements based on the Act’s broad language prohibiting discrimination “against any person in any manner” who refuses to “obtain, receive or accept” health care services or medical care. In fact, several lawsuits have recently been filed by employees claiming that their employers’ policies violate the Act.
Continue Reading Illinois limits conscience-based vaccine objections, while other states allow them

Most Texas employers are likely already familiar with Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order GA-39 that prohibits state and local governments from requiring (1) individuals to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, or (2) documentation proving vaccine status (that is, “vaccine passports”) as a condition to receive any service or enter any place.

Building upon Executive Order GA-39, on October 11, 2021, Governor Abbott issued Executive Order GA-40 (the Texas EO), which prohibits private employers in Texas from requiring that employees receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Specifically, the Texas EO prohibits any Texas entity from “compel[ling] receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19.” Texas entities that violate the Texas EO can be fined up to $1,000 (it is unclear whether the fine will be per violation). The Texas EO does not create any private cause of action, nor does it call for retroactive application.

The Texas EO creates three bases for employees to object to vaccination: (1) personal conscience; (2) religious belief; and (3) medical reasons. The Texas EO also specifically states that prior recovery from COVID-19 is a valid basis for an individual to object to a COVID-19 vaccine. The objections permitted under the Texas EO go far beyond the religious and medical exemptions to vaccine mandates under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, respectively. Moreover, the Texas EO does not contain an undue burden exception or mention any other grounds that would permit an employer to deny an employee’s objection to a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine that is made under the three bases in the Texas EO.Continue Reading Texas executive order restricts mandatory vaccination policies for employers

The Texas Legislature has been quite busy over the most recent regular and two specially-called legislative sessions. It adjourned its second specially-called legislative session on September 2, 2021. Additional bills may be enacted into law if and when Governor Greg Abbott calls a third special session. So far, Governor Abbott has signed into law several bills that may have flown under the radars of many Texas employers. Here’s a brief recap of several new laws that may impact Texas businesses and their workforce.

Expansive new sexual harassment protections

As we noted in prior posts (July 6, 2021 and September 2, 2021), Texas passed several new laws that increase legal protections against sexual harassment. The laws, which went into effect on September 1, 2021, expand liability for sexual harassment to companies with just one employee and to individual supervisors and coworkers. The legislation also lengthens the deadline from 180 days to 300 days for a claimant to file a charge alleging sexual harassment with the Texas Workforce Commission.

Liability shield for Texas businesses from most COVID-19 claims

As we noted in prior posts (July 15, 2021 and August 19, 2021), Texas – along with 18 other states – passed statutory liability protections for businesses against claims arising from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Pandemic Liability Protection Act (PLPA), which went into effect on June 14, 2021, grants retroactive liability protection for both small and large businesses for claims commenced on or after March 13, 2020. The PLPA does not provide Texas businesses an absolute immunity shield, and claims can still be brought for a pandemic-related injury or death if the business:

  • Knowingly failed to warn of, or to fix, a condition it knew was likely to result in exposure, and the failure to warn or fix was the cause in fact of the exposure; or
  • Knowingly failed or refused to comply with government standards, guidance or protocols that are intended to lower the likelihood of exposure to COVID-19, and the failure or refusal to comply was the cause in fact of the exposure.

As written, the PLPA’s liability shield will continue to protect businesses until Governor Abbott terminates the current COVID-19 pandemic disaster declaration.
Continue Reading Overview of several new workplace laws Texas employers should know about following the recent legislative sessions

On July 6, 2021, we released a blog post on Texas’ new sexual harassment laws, which became effective September 1, 2021. These laws expand liability for sexual harassment to companies with at least one employee and to individual supervisors and coworkers. Our July 6 post discusses the details of the new laws; now that

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

The effects of the #MeToo movement for employers continue with Governor Abbott recently signing two new bills into law (effective September 1, 2021) that greatly amplify legal protections against sexual harassment. One bill extends the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims from 180 days to 300 days. The other opens the door for small employers, and even individual supervisors and coworkers, to be held liable for sexual harassment.  Also, Texas employers must now take “immediate and appropriate corrective action” to avoid liability for sexual harassment. We explain these new laws in more detail below, and discuss steps Texas employers may want to consider before the new laws go into effect.

Statute of limitations lengthened for sexual harassment claims (House Bill 21)

Currently, employees must file a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission within 180 days of the alleged harassing conduct. House Bill 21, which Governor Abbott signed into law on June 9, 2021, lengthens the statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment claims from 180 days to 300 days from the date of the alleged harassment. The longer limitations period applies only to sexual harassment claims based on conduct that occurs on or after September 1, 2021. The current 180 day statute of limitations remains unchanged for other types of alleged discrimination (e.g., based on race, age, etc.).

Because the statute of limitations under federal law for sexual harassment claims is 300 days, plaintiffs who miss the 180-day deadline under Texas law were typically only able to pursue their sexual harassment claims in federal court (assuming, of course, they initiated legal proceedings within the 300-day federal deadline). Beginning this fall, those plaintiffs will be able to pursue such claims in either federal or state court. 
Continue Reading Attention Texas employers: Starting September 1, 2021, companies with just one employee—as well as individual supervisors and coworkers—can be liable for sexual harassment

As states and localities lift COVID-19 restrictions, the business community continues to grapple with the interplay between the COVID-19 vaccine and workplace operations. To address this, some U.S. employers have elected to adopt mandatory vaccination policies. These policies, in essence, require that, subject to exceptions for sincerely-held religious beliefs and disabilities, all employees receive the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of continued employment.

Not entirely surprisingly, there have been a smattering of legal challenges to mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policies across the country. And on June 12, 2021, a federal court in Texas became the first to rule on the permissibility of such policies. In a landmark ruling, the court concluded that mandatory workplace vaccination policies are lawful under Texas and federal law and may be enforced as a condition of continued employment. The court’s specific findings are discussed below.
Continue Reading In first-of-its-kind decision, federal court rules that mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccine policies are lawful

The recent decline in COVID-19 infections has led numerous states to begin contemplating a roll‑back of mask mandates and related COVID-19 restrictions. Most recently, on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, Governor Greg Abbott and Governor Tate Reeves announced the imminent elimination of mask mandates in Texas and Mississippi, respectively. Both Governors also removed all capacity limits for the businesses within their states. However, these changes pose a serious challenge to employers. On the one hand, they shift employee and customer expectations about the types of restrictions that are appropriate. On the other hand, they do nothing to reduce employer risks associated with potential outbreaks in the workplace. As a result, employers will now need to engage in a careful campaign to maintain workplace safety in the face of increased employee and customer resistance to masking and other similar precautions.
Continue Reading Employers face challenges as states lift COVID-19 safety measures

The Texas Citizens Participation Act, Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 27.001 et seq. (the TCPA), Texas’ anti-SLAPP statute, is likely to receive a much needed overhaul after the Texas Senate unanimously passed H.B. 2730 on May 17, 2019. If the Texas governor signs it into law, as expected based on the bill’s broad bipartisan support in the Texas House and Senate, the revisions will take effect on September 1, 2019, and will clarify – and significantly narrow – the types of claims to which the TCPA applies. Also, importantly for companies seeking to protect their trade secrets and enforce their restrictive covenants, the changes to the TCPA would exempt such claims from its purview.

The TCPA was originally enacted in 2011 to protect citizens who exercise their First Amendment rights from retaliatory legal actions that seek to intimidate or silence them. Specifically, the TCPA allows a party to file a motion to dismiss within 60 days of service of a lawsuit if it can establish that the legal action is based on, relates to, or is in response to the party’s exercise of the right of free speech, the right to petition, or the right of association. If the party-defendant meets this burden, the plaintiff must then establish “by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim in question.” If the defendant is ultimately successful on its motion to dismiss, the defendant is entitled to recover its attorneys’ fees.

Importantly, while a TCPA motion to dismiss is pending – and during any subsequent appeal of the trial court’s ruling on the motion – discovery and all other proceedings at the trial court are stayed. This stay can result in significant delay, which can be particularly harmful in cases in which an employer seeks emergency injunctive relief to prevent the irreparable harm associated with the use and disclosure of misappropriated trade secrets or the violation of restrictive covenants by former employees.Continue Reading Texas Legislature takes aim at Anti-SLAPP challenges