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Can your employer force you to get a vaccine?

Updated: Apr. 20, 2021 at 5:41 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The COVID-19 vaccine is now available to all adults, and many companies are planning how they’ll get employees back to the office.

“We’re not requiring our employees to get vaccinated. We’re encouraging it,” said spokesperson for Duke Energy Neil Nissan.

Duke Energy is one of several companies encouraging people to get the vaccine. Nissan says they’re not stopping there - they’re also giving employees an incentive.

“And these are points that reward employees for living a healthy lifestyle and doing things like getting a yearly physical or not using tobacco,” he said.

They’re not the only ones.

Companies like Target and Harris Teeter have given their employees financial incentives to get the shot.

But can private employers require you to get the shot?

“Employers are generally free to impose any conditions they want on employees, as long as the employers avoid unlawful discrimination,” said North Carolina employment attorney Grant Osborne.

VACCINE TEAM: Have a question about the COVID-19 vaccine? Ask us here.

Osborne says, private companies are free to insist on healthy and safe working conditions.

“They’re obligated to provide safe working conditions under what’s called the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and employers are free to require their employees to get vaccinated, for example,” said Osborne.

There are exceptions.

For instance, the employee may say he or she has an immune disorder that makes the vaccination unsafe for them.

The employer may then be required to talk with the employee about why they may be entitled to that exemption.

The employee may also ask for an accommodation.

If the employee has a disability that is recognized by law then the employer is required to make a reasonable accommodation.

“North Carolina does not have a statute of any kind that directly addresses the right of employers to mandate vaccinations of its applicants and employees,” said Osborne.

What about companies like Duke that incentivize or strongly encourage vaccinations?

“If the value of the incentive is too great, employees who cannot get the vaccine may justifiably feel that they are suffering what’s called a disparate impact against them, because they can’t get the vaccine, whereas their colleagues can,” said Osborne.

He believes employees need to be careful with how much incentives they give.

He encourages employers to have a clear written policy that employees can ask questions about.

“We’re not keeping track of which employees get vaccinated. This is a personal decision for our employees to do so, we’re encouraging it,” said Nissan.

There are exceptions but, Osborne says, the employer can say a condition of your job is getting this vaccine.

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