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Local companies stick to vaccination policies after Supreme Court decision

Local companies say they will maintain their vaccination policies despite last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for firms with more than 100 employees.

The Houston software company Hewlett Packard Enterprises, for example, said vaccinations are still required for employees to enter offices, work at clients’ sites, travel for business, or required for team members to enter work sites, work at third-party sites, and to travel or attend events on business. Those who decline to be vaccinated are required to work from home.

More than 90 percent of the company’s workforce is vaccinated, a company spokesperson said. The company has not yet decided whether to require booster shots.

The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the vaccination mandate, dealing a blow to one of the administration’s key initiatives to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The court’s conservative majority found that imposing the mandate reached beyond the authority of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency charged with implementing the mandate.

The majority argued that the pandemic wasn’t a workplace safety problem, but rather a public health issue. The court let stand the mandate requiring health care workers to be vaccinated.

Legal experts and business leaders say the ruling isn’t likely to change much since many employers have already had policies put in place before the mandate went into effect. Bob Harvey, CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the region’s leading business group, said he doesn’t anticipate employers changing their policies because of the Supreme Court ruling.

“I don’t think we’ll see employers (with mandates) pull back frankly,” he said. “For those who are sitting on the fence they’re less likely to move forward with a mandate.”

The Houston chemical company LyondellBasell and CenterPoint, the Houston utility company, have not adopted vaccine mandates. They said they have COVID protocols in place and will continue to monitor them.

Corporate vaccine requirement increased the rate of vaccination among employees by 20 percent, according to a recent survey by the National Safety Council. The survey found 95 percent of workers at businesses with vaccine mandates were inoculated, compared to 75 percent among those at businesses without requirements.

At BakerRipley, employees are required to get vaccinated or tested weekly, the Houston charity said. Nearly 90 percent of its 1,200 employees are fully vaccinated.

Camden Property Trust, a national real estate company headquartered in Houston, put in vaccine requirements over the summer before Biden announced the mandate. Of its 746 Texas employees, 718, or about 96 percent, are vaccinated, said Ric Campo, CEO of Camden Property Trust said.

“We just had this discussion about safety and it’s about keeping teammates safe. We’ve done all the analysis and that’s what we think,” Campo said, “And once people had a rational discussion, and it wasn’t political, and it wasn’t ‘You do this or else’ people chose to vaccinate.”

The few who aren’t vaccinated must wear masks at work, Campo said.

Whether to require vaccinations is now in the hands of companies, said Seth J. Chandler, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center. It’s unlikely that Congress would pass new laws to give OSHA the authority that the Supreme Court says it now lacks to impose workplace vaccination requirements.

“Realistically, the people who can act are Congress — which isn’t going to act — and states, which if they were going to act likely would have acted already,” Chandler said.

Marissa Luck, Amanda Drane and Rob Downen contributed to this report.

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