Odessa College is imposing both a vaccine mandate and mask mandate on unvaccinated employees – citing the federal vaccine mandate being imposed through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

The federal mandates, which have come at the direction of President Joe Biden, have all faced severe scrutiny in federal courts. 

However, after the OSHA mandate was stayed by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, it was recently reinstated by another federal circuit court. 

This has prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to set a hearing for January 7, taking up challenges to both the OSHA vaccine mandate for businesses with over 100 employees and another mandate imposed on healthcare workers through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). 

According to an Odessa College directive sent out to all school staff, employees must show proof of vaccination by January 10, and those who fail to show proof will not be allowed to return to work. 

A more detailed policy indicates that the mandate does not apply to certain employees who work from home, or entirely outdoors. 

The policy also details employees may seek an exemption based on several exceptions, including medical reasons and sincerely held religious beliefs.

Employees who obtain a vaccine exemption, however, will be subject to a mask mandate. 

“If an employee covered by this policy is not fully vaccinated (e.g., if they are granted an exception from the mandatory vaccination requirement because the vaccine is contraindicated or them), Odessa College will require the employee to wear a face covering,” the employee mandate policy states. 

According to the Texas State Law Library guidance on current laws and rules pertaining to COVID-19, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order (GA-38) that bans local governments from imposing mask mandates. 

“No governmental entity, including a county, city, school district, and public health authority, and no government official may require any person to wear a face-covering or to mandate that another person wear a face covering,” Abbott’s order states.

The Fifth Circuit left Abbott’s ban on mask mandates in place pertaining to local school districts in early December, however, the OSHA mandate on unvaccinated employees appears to be a separate challenge.

Odessa Headlines reached out to the college for comment regarding the vaccine mandate, and whether the college has an official position on the litigation currently before federal courts. 

An official with the college released a statement characterizing the mandate not as a local institutional policy, but simply following current federal requirements – and should the courts overturn the mandate, they will make appropriate adjustments.

“College recently communicated with employees the new Department of Labor OSHA Standard which requires all employers of 100 or more employees to implement vaccination, testing and face covering standards. All requirements except the testing will be enforced by OSHA as of Jan. 10, 2022. This is not a local, institutional vaccination mandate. It is a federal requirement. Should the supreme court overturn OSHA’s Emergency Temporary Standard on Vaccination and Testing (29 CFR 1910.501), the college will follow the law, make appropriate adjustments to the local administrative policy/procedure, and communicate with employees accordingly.”