'Employees may have rights': North Carolina attorney weighs in on possible COVID vaccine mandates in workforce

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Many businesses say a mask is required to step foot inside. Now, we're starting to see other warnings, regarding the COVID vaccine, posted on building windows.

People are being prohibited from entering the Wake County School District Headquarters in Cary if they're "not fully vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19."

Duke University, a private school, is requiring students to get the shot for the fall semester. More mandates could be popping up.

Elena Duncan hasn't received the vaccine and doesn't plan to anytime soon.

"I wouldn't want to be forced to get a vaccination, especially if it's not necessary," said Duncan. Some people are fighting back.

Former Durham Sheriff Deputy Christopher Neve recently filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Clarence Birkhead and County Manager Wendell Davis for "mandating all employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine."

The argument is being made that current vaccines have only been approved for emergency use and until they are fully approved, "Congress made the policy decision that members of the public should not be forced to receive an unapproved product."

Employment attorney Carena Lemons, speaking generally, isn't sure how far a challenge can go.

"This has not been litigated. So the employee may have rights under the constitution that is not being considered under the discrimination laws," Lemons said.

Lemons said employers can impose a vaccine mandate and says she's aware of several companies currently drafting policy.

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Lemons says some are planning to offer incentives.

"That's something employers have been thinking about, have been contemplating, and as someone who represents employees, I have concerns regarding employees' rights," Lemons said.

Lemons said employees have the right to opt out for religious or medical reasons, but there could be consequences on the backend.

"In the state of North Carolina, we're an employment-at-will state. An employer can terminate the employee for no reason or even a stupid reason. Unless the employee has a valid excuse or valid objection to the vaccine regarding for religious or medical reasons, then the employer can terminate the employee," said Lemons.

Lemons is in the process of setting up a webinar, along with other attorneys, to help guide folks through this new vaccine world.

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