Local employers are getting caught in the middle of a growing vaccine debate.
Local employers are getting caught in the middle of a growing vaccine debate. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A restaurant and bar in the Hill Country is in the spotlight for its COVID-19 policy.

Boerne-based Richter Tavern said it would no longer cover testing for employees who refuse the vaccine and contract COVID-19, nor would it pay them while they are out for a mandatory 10-day period. To cover the cost of testing, COVID-positive workers would see a $125 deduction from their checks.

Any of Richter’s employees who get vaccinated and still end up contracting the virus would receive a stipend while they’re home and COVID-positive. The business would pay for any testing for those individuals.

The policy was a tweak to the establishment’s modus operandi earlier in the pandemic, which was to pay for sick employees’ coronavirus testing and pay them while they had to stay home.

A memo informing Richter employees of the updated policy circulated on social media this week and was swiftly met with either praise or backlash depending on which corner of the web it found. Guy Sanders, the tavern’s owner, said he has received threatening phone calls from people saying they wanted his restaurant shut down.

In response, Sanders penned a Facebook post: “Clearly I’m not generous enough- so for the remaining 10% or so of employees who do not want a vaccine I’ll pay for their testing and continue a stipend for them to stay home if they get sick.”

Asking for an employee’s vaccination status does not violate patient privacy protections, but state government entities cannot require people to prove their vaccination status with a document such as a vaccine passport, according to an executive order Gov. Greg Abbott signed in April. Federal officials have ruled out establishing a national COVID-19 vaccine passport.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, employers can incentivize, encourage, or even require their employees to get vaccinated as long as they make accommodations for people with disabilities. I suspect we will start seeing employer and employee clash over vaccinations a lot more often in the future.

Bexar County is nearing a vaccination milestone. The county is fewer than 5,000 vaccinations away from reaching 1 million inhabitants with at least one dose. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he expects Bexar County will reach that mark by Monday.

Perhaps the main source of optimism at this stage of the vaccine program is that the rollout for adolescents is going “better than expected.” More than 600,000 12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S. were vaccinated in the first week of the rollout. In Texas, that age group accounts for more than 100,000 vaccinations and nearly 11,000 in Bexar County.

The other significant COVID news this week, especially as it pertains to children, is that the State of Texas is now barring government entities, including public schools, from requiring masks.

What do you think of employers’ role in encouraging vaccinations? Are you hopeful children will help get San Antonio closer to vaccinating a sizable majority of the population? How do you feel now that public schools cannot require masks? Let us know.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.