Duke University’s Vaccine Mandate

The Noble Law’s employment attorney and partner Katie Abernethy appeared on WRAL News last week to discuss the outcome of Duke University’s vaccine mandate, and how this might affect other employers in North Carolina.

Gerald Owens: The deadline for Duke University’s 22,000 employees to comply with the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is Friday, or they will ultimately be fired. This was a bold move for Durham county’s largest employer, to require vaccines early on. WRAL’s reporter, Sarah Krueger, joins us live from campus to tell us how successful the mandate was.

Sarah Krueger: Gerald, it was hugely successful, and it’s not just Duke University, here, requiring vaccines, it is also Duke Health. That deadline was last week. Both of those mandates went so well that some are wondering if more employers will [require vaccines as a result].

In new numbers, today from Duke Health, officials say they have had to fire fewer than 20 of their 22,000 employees. At Duke University, the numbers are similar, a spokesperson telling me that 99% of its 22,000 employees are in compliance with the mandate. 96% got their shot and 3% got a medical or religious exemption.

When you hear those numbers, what do you think?

Erica Skerrett: I think I feel a little bit lucky, then, that Duke did issue this mandate.

Krueger: Erica Skerrett is a Duke grad student and employee who called the mandate a relief and hopes it encourages other employers to require it, too.

Skerrett: I think that what they’re showing with their really high vaccination rates are that mandates work.

Katie Abernethy: I think it’s encouraging.

Krueger: Katie Abernethy is an employment lawyer in Chapel Hill. She points out that President Biden has instructed OSHA to require private employers with 100 or more workers to require the vaccine. Those employers and smaller ones, she says, can feel encouraged by how smoothy Duke’s mandate went.

Abernethy: Here in North Carolina, I would say, for any employer of any size, they are absolutely on good legal footing to require vaccination in their workforce.

Krueger: And at UNC Chapel Hill, there is no vaccine mandate. The employees there also have until Friday to show the university either that they are vaccinated, otherwise they will get weekly testing. 87% of UNC Chapel Hill employees have reported that they are vaccinated. Back to you.

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