As Texas has gradually reopened, the number of COVID-19 cases and associated hospitalizations has dramatically increased. In response to local conditions, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff recently issued Executive Order NW-10, under which all businesses operating in the county must adopt a health and safety policy that requires both employees and customers to wear face coverings. The order remains in effect through June 30, 2020, and imposes fines on businesses in amounts up to $1,000 per violation.
Judge Wolff’s order appeared to conflict with a series of executive orders issued by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. In the latest of those orders, Governor Abbott encouraged individuals to wear face coverings, but prohibited local authorities from imposing civil or criminal penalties on individuals who refused. However, consistent with the governor’s position, Judge Wolff’s order provides that “no civil or criminal penalty will be imposed on individuals for failure to wear a face covering.”
A number of Texas counties and cities have since issued similar orders that contain face covering mandates. Notably, orders issued in Austin, Dallas County, Harris County (greater Houston area), and San Antonio require businesses to implement and follow health and safety policies that mandate the use of face coverings by employees and customers or face significant fines. Those fines range from $500 to $1,000 per violation, and can accrue on a daily basis. The city of Austin first issued an order that did not include fines, but the mayor released an amended order on June 22, 2020. Under the amended order, violations will be considered “a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000, but not by confinement.”
In addition to the above-referenced orders, other local jurisdictions are issuing similar orders. Businesses with operations in Texas should consider locating and reviewing orders that are applicable to their specific local jurisdictions (both county and city), and do so periodically as the orders are subject to change.
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources Center as additional information becomes available. Important information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.