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United Airlines Rejects Texas Executive Order Prohibiting Vaccine Mandate

Business, Featured

United Airlines aircraft in flight. | Image by Jozsef Soos

According to a report by Brandon Waltens of Texas Scorecard, United Airlines is still imposing a COVID vaccine mandate for its employees, which runs against Governor Greg Abbott’s executive order banning these mandates.

United Airlines sent an internal email to its employees, which the Texas Freedom Coalition shared, informing employees that it will continue mandating COVID vaccinations for its employees. The email states:

United has received requests from some employees seeking to be exempted from United’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement because of the Texas Governor’s recent executive order. You should be aware that the provisions of the Texas order do not apply to United employees, and in any event, do not support a request for an exemption.

First, United remains subject to a federal executive order requiring the vaccination of federal contractor employees. This order supersedes any contrary state or local law or ordinance. No federal court has yet invalidated or suspended the federal order, even though its enforcement has been suspended. Moreover, the Texas order is also preempted by other federal laws like the Federal Aviation Act, the Airline Deregulation Act, and general principles of federal preemption. 

Second, by its terms, the Texas order applies only to current employees who work in Texas. If your work reporting location is in any other jurisdiction, you are not covered by the Texas order, even if you choose to spend your non-work time in Texas. Likewise, if your employment with United has ended due to termination or retirement, you are not covered by the Texas order.

Finally, even for current employees who work in Texas – and even assuming the Texas order were otherwise applicable – that order merely requires that a private employer must provide various exemptions if it imposes a vaccine requirement. United has already provided reasonable accommodations to employees who sought and were entitled to them. Accordingly, if you received an accommodation under United’s vaccine policy, you have already been provided with any relief that might otherwise be required under the Texas order.

The airline informed Texas Scorecard that they would be working to “identify non-customer facing roles where accommodated employees can apply and continue working until it is safe for them to return to their current positions.”

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld United’s vaccine mandate after employees filed a lawsuit in a recent ruling.

Although several federal vaccine mandates are still being addressed in the courts, Abbott’s executive order issued in October prohibiting vaccine mandates has generally been avoided by several major corporations.

Early in December, Abbott announced the establishment of a “hotline” that is run by the Texas Workforce Commission to report employers who skirt the executive order by mandating vaccinations in the workplace.

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