This afternoon TCJL submitted written testimony to the Senate State Affairs Committee opposing SB 51. Like HB 155, SB 51 mandates that an employer allow an employee to claim an exemption from a vaccine mandate “based on a medical condition or reasons of conscience, including a religious belief.” As there are no standards for what constitutes a “reason of conscience,” the bill effectively allows an employee to opt-out for any reason. SB 51 imposes liability on employers under Chapter 21, Labor Code, for discriminatory treatment of an employee or prospective employee because he or she claimed an exemption. Under Chapter 21, an employee or prospective employee may bring an administrative action at the Texas Workforce Commission. If the employee obtains a “right to sue” letter from the agency, he or she may then file a civil lawsuit against the employer. The available remedies include injunctive and equitable relief (for example, reinstatement or upgraded employment status with or without back pay), compensatory damages (which may include mental anguish or other non-pecuniary losses), and punitive damages. The employee may recover up to $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, plus back pay, attorney’s fees, interest, and court costs. So while SB 51 does not work the same way has HB 155, which creates a private cause of action rather than a Chapter 21 administrative complaint, the end result is very much the same. You can read a copy of TCJL’s testimony below.

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