Yes, employers can require you to get the vaccine before you return to in-person work

Yes, employers can require you to get the vaccine before you return to in-person work
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Legally, employers can require their staff to get a coronavirus vaccine before they return to in-person work. But they probably won’t.

Zoom out: In December, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) clarified that vaccines aren’t “medical examinations.” As the National Law Review writes, this effectively gives employers the green light to require vaccinations.

Why it matters: Vaccination is a critical step in the return to normal life. Medical experts say up to 85 percent of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. [Go deeper]

  • During the pandemic, employers have had to play a role in public health by keeping their workers at home, or changing their behavior while working in person.

Yes, but: Just because employers can require vaccines doesn’t mean they will — or that they should. For employers, there are sensitive issues here to consider beyond just what’s legal, says Cliff Scott, a professor of organizational science and communication studies at UNC Charlotte.

  • Many Americans are skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines for a range of reasons, including wariness over the speed with which pharmaceutical companies developed them. [Go deeper]
  • If employers require the vaccine, they’d have to make some exceptions (medical conditions or pregnancy, religious objections, etc.). “The worker’s individual situation may be more complicated than the employer knows,” Scott said.
  • It’s a delicate balance, Scott added, for an employer to consider the need for a safe working environment with the need to protect employees’ rights.
An Atrium Health employee handles a Covid-19 vaccine

An Atrium Health employee handles a COVID-19 vaccine (courtesy of Atrium Health)

Of note: Instead of mandating vaccines, some employers are offering incentives to encourage their workers to get the vaccine.

  • Hospital administrators nationwide are giving employees everything from free meals at Waffle House to car raffles, the AP reports.
  • Employers could consider gift cards, priority in scheduling for hourly workers, and time off, Scott says.

What he’s saying: “If you’re a retail employee and you’re facing the general public and you’re a little reluctant, having your employer throw you $100 that might cause you to lean toward doing it,” Scott said. “It’s better to use carrots with this instead of sticks.”

We reached out to the biggest employers in Charlotte, from schools to banks, and none will require their employees to get vaccinated — not even hospitals.

Here’s a look at what they’re doing:

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Employee count: More than 19,000.

Details: The CMS board advocated for student-facing staff to receive priority for vaccinations. CMS won’t require vaccinations, nor will it offer incentives for employees who do get a vaccine, spokeswoman Yaviri Escalera said.

  • “We encourage employees to get vaccinated at their first opportunity to do so within the guidelines established by state and county public health officials,” she added.

Novant Health

Employee count: About 12,000 in the Charlotte area.

Details: Novant is not making the vaccination mandatory initially.

  • “Our hope is that Novant Health team members will choose to model for our community and get immunized,” spokeswoman Megan Rivers said.

Atrium Health

Employee count: Roughly 40,500 people in the Charlotte region. About 33,000 are eligible under the current phase (1a and 1b, group 1), and roughly half of those employees either have been or are scheduled to be vaccinated.

Details: “The vaccine is encouraged, but not mandatory,” spokesman Chris Berger said.

Wells Fargo

Employee count: About 27,500 in the Charlotte area.

Details: Wells Fargo told employees they’ll be working remotely until at least March 1. Spokesman Josh Dunn said the company didn’t have anything to share about a vaccine requirement.

Bank of America

Employee count: About 16,000 in the Charlotte region. The bank has said it’ll return corporate employees to in-person work in phases.

Details: Spokesman Mark Pipitone declined to comment about vaccines.


Employee count: About 2,800 in the area.

Details: Spokesman Kyle Tarrance said the bank will “lean on the latest guidance from health authorities,” and will share more details on its plans regarding the vaccine sometime in the future.


Employee count: Approximately 975 people in the region, the majority of whom are still working from home.

Details: Spokesman Eric Krantz said Honeywell is still evaluating its approach to vaccines. The company’s focus now is on educating employees and helping them through their questions as vaccines become more widely available.

  • “We will definitely encourage vaccination to the extent possible,” Krantz added.


Employee count: About 1,200 in the Charlotte region.

Details: The company does not have any immediate plans to require employees to return to the office.

Duke Energy

Employee count: 6,000 in the Charlotte area, including roughly 500 who have returned to in-person work.

Details: Duke has an internal task force in place for the administration of the vaccine when it’s available for its workforce, spokesman Neil Nissan said. The company has not made a decision about a vaccine requirement or incentives, he added.

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