Debra Morgan: Today the Supreme Court halted a major push by the Biden administration to get more shots into arms.
Gerald Owens: The mandate required businesses with more than 100 employees to get vaccinated to be tested each week. The Court ruled the administration overstepped its authority.
Morgan: The Court did keep the mandate for most healthcare workers intact. Joining us tonight to put this all into perspective is Chapel Hill based employment law attorney, Laura Noble. Laura, what does this ruling mean for local businesses?
Laura Noble: Well, I think we need to distinguish between what the government can force employers to do, and what employers can legally require their employees to do in order to work for them. In other words, the Supreme Court said that the government cannot force employers to impose a vaccine to test mandate on their employees, but, as the law still stands in North Carolina and most other states, an employer may on its own legally require employees to test or get vaccinated.
Owens: And what about workers who may have lost their jobs for not complying to this mandate? Do they have more legal standing now?
Noble: That’s a good question, because in the majority opinion, the Court seems to suggest that the COVID disease itself does not impose a great danger to the workplace. So, that may come into play in terms of unemployment appeals or other wrongful termination claims. It’s yet to be seen.
Morgan: What about people who go to work and they’re worried about contracting COVID in their workplace if this mandate isn’t in place? Are you talking to any folks about that? Are they worried about that? Do they have any rights?
Noble: Our office is flooded with calls from employees who are worried about unsafe workplace conditions as a result of this virus. What the majority in this decision seems to be saying is that COVID itself is not a grave danger in the workplace because it’s sort of a universal risk that we all experience in our day to day life. So, OSHA, which is tasked with regulating a safe workplace, can’t regulate a public health concern, can’t regulate those things that are a universal risk to all of us.
Owens: Laura, who is the big winner here? The employees or the businesses?
Noble: Well, considering the other decision affecting healthcare facilities sort of says it is a grave danger, I think we’re all still kind of a little bit in the mush in terms of determining how we’re going to approach workplace safety and vaccine and testing mandates.
Morgan: You know, you made the distinction between the mandate from the president and what companies are already doing, Do you think that this decision today means that some of the companies are going to back off some of their mandates for testing and getting a vaccine as a condition of employment?
Noble: Well the employer case was brought by several large employers and nonprofits in various states around the country, so, obviously, there is a large contingent group of employers who do not want to see this vaccine mandate, arguing that it is going to cause them to lose employees and lose money. So, I think for those employers, they feel very good about this decision. There are other employers that we get calls from that are really worried about retaining their employees because there is no vaccine mandate. So, I think it might depend on your industry, it might depend on your state, whether or not this is a win for you, so to speak, as an employer.
Owens: Laura, has this ruling made your job easier or more difficult?
Noble: Well, as with most Supreme Court decisions, it makes things a little bit more challenging, but we will read through it and do the best we can to give you the best advice we can.