Can NC employers legally require COVID-19 vaccinations? Experts weigh in

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Many employers in North Carolina can legally require employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Daniel Bowling is a Professor of Labor and Employment Law at Duke University’s School of Law. Because North Carolina is considered an at-will employment state, companies are allowed to fire employees for no reason at all. Bowling said they can legally require vaccinations.

“Can a private employer require its applicants and employees to be vaccinated? The answer is yes. Does an employer have to? Can they be mandated by the state to do so? The answer is no, absent it being a state-licensed business like a restaurant,” said Bowling, who is also a practicing attorney.

There are some exemptions for people whose religious beliefs go against vaccines, or for those who have medical conditions that could lead to a bad reaction.

Bowling told CBS 17 we likely won’t see businesses begin to require the vaccine until it becomes more widely available.

“Particularly employers who have employees who have contact with customers such as bars, restaurants, sales groups,” he said. “I think we’ll see signs on bars in six months with ‘all of our servers have been vaccinated.’”

Bowling says it’s possible we could see a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees at public agencies and businesses that require a state license to operate.

When asked about that during a press conference earlier this week, Gov. Roy Cooper said, “We know there are a lot of jobs out there that’s going to be important for people to be vaccinated because they deal with the public. I know that we’re going to be talking with legislators and others about whether vaccines should be required and whether employers can require vaccines.”

“We’re going to be pushing for people to get this vaccine. We know that employees who particularly have to deal with the public need the vaccine to protect themselves and the public. And we’re going to continue working with businesses and employers to find the best way to do that,” he added.

Catapult is an employers association that represents about 2,400 businesses across the state. Co-CEO Bruce Clarke told CBS 17 some are opting to incentivize employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The dominant strategy really for those that want their employees vaccinated sooner rather than later is the incentive strategy,” he said. “What can I provide an employee as an incentive to get that vaccination as soon as they’re eligible?”

But Clarke said a few hundred businesses have already asked for guidance on requiring it.

“It’s still a minority of the employers that are thinking of, considering, and asking about mandating a vaccine,” said Clarke. “I think most are very leery of that. Not necessarily because they can’t mandate it, or that a law would prevent it, it’s just that, is it a good idea? I mean there are many things you can do, that you really shouldn’t do, or shouldn’t do right now.”

When that does happen, Bowling expects some employees of applicants will sue over the requirement.

“I absolutely anticipate in our society today that there will be lawsuits. ‘I was denied a job because I wouldn’t take a vaccine, and I wouldn’t take a vaccine because I don’t believe it’s the right for another person to tell me how I live and what I do with my body,’” said Bowling. “Lawsuits around those lines, or wrongful termination lawsuits, or possibly if someone takes the vaccine and gets sick and dies for anything.”

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