Charlotte businesses waiting for more information on Biden vaccine mandate

Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 6:37 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2021 at 2:17 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Companies across North Carolina are waiting for more information from the federal government regarding new vaccine mandates.

President Biden announced last week he is asking OSHA, under the Department of Labor, to develop a rule for employers with 100 or more employees to require vaccination or weekly covid-19 testing.

While most Charlotte-based companies are not requiring vaccinations for their employees yet, they have been planning a return-to-office strategy for months.

Bank of America, Duke Energy, Wells Fargo and Truist are collecting employee vaccination status from their employees.

For some companies, submitting vaccination status is voluntary, but a spokesperson for Truist says it is required of their employees.

Truist is also moving the timeline for the majority of their teammates to return to on-site work from October and November.

“It does send a strong message to companies that were thinking about requiring vaccination in the first place that the federal government has got their back,” Katie Abernethy, an employment attorney with The Noble Law Firm, told WBTV.

Abernethy says the Department of Labor is within its rights to create a rule requiring vaccinations.

“The courts have a strong doctrine in a place called the chevron doctrine that provides that when an agency through formal rule making legislates in an area that congress has given it permission to set rules in, that those rules are usually upheld.

Professionals in Charlotte have mixed opinions.

“It’s really up to everyone ya know it’s not the President of the United States but that’s just my thought,” Kyle Jameson said.

“When I’m around people who are vaccinated, I feel way better so to give employers that peace of mind I think it’s a no-brainer,” Becca Cockman said.

Abernethy expects legal challenges in North Carolina but does not know how they will hold up in a court of law.

“We are a right-to-work state,” she said. “Employment is at will in this state, so employers have pretty broad discretion within legal limits.”

Abernethy says the DOL will draft the proposed rule and publish it to the public for a period of time before it becomes effective and she expects that taking anywhere from 90 to 120 days.

Most companies responded to WBTV’s requests for interviews regarding President Biden’s announcement, with statements similar to the following, from Duke Energy:

“We’ll evaluate the details when they become available and have nothing else to offer at this time.”

Bank of America chose not to comment on President Biden’s recent announcement, but a spokesperson said:

“Our return to office strategy has not changed—we continue to prioritize the vaccinated as we slowly return to the office.”

In a statement a spokesperson for Wells Fargo told WBTV:

“We are reviewing the new requirements from the Administration and are determining how they apply to Wells Fargo. We continue to follow CDC guidance, and have returned to the face covering policy we had in place for most of the pandemic: all U.S. employees currently working in the office must wear face coverings at all Wells Fargo U.S. facilities, regardless of their vaccination status. We postponed the start of our phased return to office until October 18, and we are collecting vaccination status from our employees to better enable our focus on health and safety in the workplace.”

Chris Jackson, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont. says the company is also awaiting further guidance.

In a statement, Jackson said in part:

“Just as we have throughout this pandemic, we will comply with all policies and mandates to do our part in ensuring the health and safety of our team members, their families, and our community.”

We reached out to the North Carolina Department of Employment Security to find out whether an employee who is fired for not complying with the mandate would be eligible for unemployment benefits.

In a statement, a spokesperson for NCDES said:

People who are fired or quit their jobs because they refuse to follow their employer’s vaccine requirement should not expect to receive unemployment benefits. Every claim is different, and the Division of Employment Security determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis by considering the facts and circumstances of the claim.

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