A Houston Republican state senator has asked the Texas Attorney General’s office to look into Houston ISD’s COVID-19 leave policy after the lawmaker accused the district of discriminating against unvaccinated employees.
HISD’s 2021-2022 plan provides full-time staff with up to 10 days paid sick leave after testing positive or exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.
According to state Sen. Bettencourt, R-Houston, the problem lies in the fact that only vaccinated employees are granted the benefit, while unvaccinated employees are forced to use vacation days if they need to quarantine.
“Do we really want a leave policy that grants a benefit to one group of employees and not another?,” Bettencourt said. “I think that’s discriminatory and unfair.”
As a result, Bettencourt asked Texas AG Ken Paxton’s office to review the legality of the policy, which he claimed may violate a Texas law banning vaccine passports and Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order GA-38, which bans the implementation of vaccine mandates.
Bettencourt also questioned whether the policy violated HISD employees’ medical privacy rights, which are protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA.
“I think there’s a concern in my mind about privacy of employees,” he said. “The bottom line is somebody needs to ask the questions, so I’m asking the questions.”
HIPAA, a digital health data privacy law, generally does not apply to employers.
HISD’s plan also grants a one-time $500 stipend to employees who are vaccinated, prompting Bettencourt to question whether this use of taxpayer money was beneficial in the long run. He added that his gripe with the stipend was not part of his request to Paxton’s office.
HISD declined respond to requests for comment.
Bettencourt’s request is the latest development in an ongoing battle between local municipalities and the state of Texas regarding efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Several counties and school districts have pushed back against Abbott’s orders and implemented their own mask mandates, leading to numerous court battles across the state of Texas.