Law experts confirm: employers can require COVID-19 vaccination

Law experts confirm: employers can require COVID-19 vaccination
With the supply of COVID-19 vaccines growing, many companies are encouraging workers to get a shot when they can. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - With the supply of COVID-19 vaccines growing, many companies are encouraging workers to get a shot when they can. That’s led to many questions about how far employers can go to have employees vaccinated.

Like many business owners in the Cape Fear, Evan Trawick wants his employees vaccinated.

“We’re a tourist town,” said Trawick, who owns Cape Fear Seafood Company. “We have lots of folks from out of town, here, as well. We just feel that it’s important for us to keep our doors open and have as many of our employees vaccinated as possible.

Legally, employers can require vaccines. It’s a controversial idea, so not many are willing to enforce it. Cape Fear Seafood Company and some other local businesses took a different route by offering incentives like bonuses to get employees vaccinated.

“So far, we’ve had a pretty good response,” said Trawick. “We’ve had over 40 of our employees [vaccinated]. We’ve got about 115 total, so a little over 40 percent or so have gotten the vaccine.”

But should businesses require employees to get a COVID-19 vaccine? It’s a touchy subject and not everyone sees eye-to-eye.

“I just think everybody should be safe. I really do believe in the vaccine and I think that everybody should get it,” said Laura Welsh, a Leland resident.

Patrick Brown from Wilmington doesn’t quite agree.

“I don’t think they should require their employees to be vaccinated,”said Brown. “I think it is kind of important to maybe stress the importance depending on the different area in which they work.”

WECT even asked Governor Roy Cooper last week, but he didn’t give us a definitive answer. However, law experts say it’s completely legal for businesses to mandate a vaccine.

“Practically speaking, it’s mostly the frontline essential workers, healthcare workers and occupations like that that are, in fact, requiring their employees to be vaccinated,” said employment law attorney Benton Toups. “The same rules are applied across the board.”

There are some exceptions — from religious beliefs to health reasons — but simply refusing to get one could cost you your job.

“They absolutely could deny employment based on refusal to get the vaccine,” said Toups. “The two exceptions are religious objections or a condition that prevents the employee or the applicant from getting the vaccine.

Trawick has seen success after offering the incentive to his employees so a mandate is off the table, for now.

“We’re having a really good participation rate, so I don’t believe it’s going to be an issue for us,” said Trawick.

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