Katie Abernethy, employment attorney and partner with The Noble Law, appeared on WRAL News to discuss the implications that OSHA approval could have on President Biden’s vaccine mandate in North Carolina.
Debra Morgan: We’re joined by attorney Katie Abernethy from Noble Law to talk about what those changes mean for companies and workers. Katie, this approval process usually takes years, but, in this case, approval could come in just days. Will that change the roll out and how companies enact new policies?
Katie Abernethy: I don’t know that that will change the roll out tremendously. The good news is that over the summer we saw more or less a dry run of what I will expect will come out in this rule when we looked at just the healthcare industry. And, a number of employers, particularly here in North Carolina, having already gone through the process of putting in place a vaccine mandate for their workforce. So, I think we’ve certainly seen a precedent.
Morgan: Would you expect to see business or employees refusing to comply with these OSHA standards, and, if so, what impact would that have on a business?
Abernethy: It puts business in the middle, essentially. Basically, OSHA requires the business to provide a safe place to work, safe including meaning safe from pathogens, safe from contagious diseases. So, if employees refuse to get vaccinated, it really puts the ownness on the business to ensure the safety in the workplace. So, I would say that businesses have the most to gain or lose here under the new rule.
Morgan: So, do companies or workers have any options here? And does North Carolina’s status as an at-will employment state have any impact on that?
Abernethy: North Carolina’s status as an at will employment state is everything here. Here in North Carolina, an employer can, and many already have, mandate vaccination as a requirement to maintain one’s employment. There is no legal prohibition in statute or otherwise at this time that would prevent them from doing so and from enforcing that. So, North Carolina being an at-will employment state is absolutely, at least at this juncture, what I think ultimately will see employees really struggling to find a way around vaccine requirements.
Morgan: My last quick question, what about the difference between private companies and government jobs?
Abernethy: Well, the federal government, the executive order that President Biden signed about a month ago has already put in place a vaccine mandate for the federal government employers and contractors, so, basically, now we are just looking at a rollout with private employers. Some of whom, a great number of whom, have already come a long ways in either requiring vaccination or having a regular testing protocol for those who are not vaccinated. I think we have seen a lot of different approaches and solutions here in the Triangle.
Morgan: Katie Abernethy, thank you so much for your time and insight tonight.