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How Texas' New Abortion Law Could Be a Headache to HR Everywhere

Human resources departments potentially face huge headaches with the recent passage of Texas’ new abortion law and the likelihood that the fallout won’t be limited to just one state.

Texas Senate Bill 8 empowers private citizens to bring civil lawsuits tied to women who seek abortions in the state after a pregnancy goes past six weeks. The U.S. Department of Justice, in a Sept. 9 release, announced it filed its own lawsuit to stop the Texas law, which took effect Sept.1 and “effectively bans most abortions in the state.”

“The Act is clearly unconstitutional under longstanding Supreme Court precedent,” says Attorney General Merrick Garland. “The United States has the authority and responsibility to ensure that no state can deprive individuals of their constitutional rights through a legislative scheme specifically designed to prevent the vindication of those rights.”

The new law bans abortions after six weeks in most cases and “additionally, the law contains no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape, sexual abuse, incest or for pregnancies involving a fetal defect incompatible with life after birth,” the DOJ notes in its release.

While the new law is focused mainly on hindering abortion clinics from assisting pregnant women seeking abortions, it could potentially entangle anyone suspected of helping, Tina Casey writes for Triple Pundit. “That opens up some interesting questions for corporate HR departments, both in and out of Texas,” Casey notes. “The law apparently provides for Texas residents to act on anonymous tips, raising the possibility that out-of-state tipsters can get the ball rolling on abortion lawsuits in Texas.”

HR departments should take steps to ensure their wellness programs don’t expose their companies to lawsuits. “To be on the safe side, they may need their female employees in Texas to sign a certificate pledging not to discuss their pregnancy status with their wellness program or, for that matter, anyone else in the company,” Casey writes.

There is also the potential headache of an employee suing someone under the law, and especially if an employee sues another employee in the same company. “If the lawsuit ‘snitching’ problem gets out of hand it could have a significant, negative impact on team-building efforts and employee well-being,” she writes.

For companies with employees outside Texas, HR departments will need to create new policies that acknowledge female employees have the right to reject job assignments in the state. “After all, pregnancy is a high-risk health condition,” Casey notes. “The option of out-of-state travel to an abortion clinic sounds doable on paper, but it can layer additional health risks on pregnant women, pose new financial stresses, raise difficulties in dropping family or work responsibilities for extended periods, and expose women who would otherwise be able to keep their decision to abort a private one.”

One company took quick action in backing its employees against the new law. Salesforce on Sept. 10 informed thousands of its workers that if they or their families have any concerns about receiving reproductive care in Texas, the firm will assist in relocating them, CNBC reports. “These are incredibly personal issues that directly impact many of us—especially women,” Salesforce told employees in the message, obtained by CNBC.

Salesforce did not state its position on the law, but noted that “we recognize and respect that we all have deeply held and different perspectives. As a company, we stand with all of our women at Salesforce and everywhere.”

Firms located in Texas could send a stronger message by relocating out of the state entirely. But the financial costs of such a move would be steep, as Texas is only one of six states that don’t charge corporate income tax, Reuters reports. And while online dating firm Match is headquartered in Texas and its chief executive Shar Dubey started a fund to pay employees who need an abortion, that idea could pose legal risk for the company. Two potential problems is ensuring employees’ identities are kept anonymous and dealing with huge direct health costs if health insurance is not viable.

PerryUndem, a research firm, revealed in a recent national survey released Aug. 31 that about 80% of respondents feel abortion access is crucial for women’s rights and gender equity, while 63% feel strongly about these issues. The Texas abortion law would discourage 66% of respondents from working in the state, while 64% said they would not work in states that passed similar laws. About 50% of respondents said they would consider leaving states that pass laws similar to Texas.

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