Can your employer force you to get vaccinated? The answer might surprise you

MORRISVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Many of you who have been working from home for nearly a year may be ready to get back to the office.

But there's been a lot of discussion about whether employers can require that their employees get a COVID-19 vaccine.

"One of the top priorities, when we transitioned to a work-from-home environment, was the safety and health of our employees. So, as we look to transition back to the workplace, that's still top priority," Buck Rogers told ABC11.

Rogers is a vice president at Keystone Partners, a human-relations consulting firm in Morrisville.

He said the key to returning to work safely is COVID-19 vaccines.

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"From a leadership and employer perspective, as well as an HR perspective, it's really important that people get vaccinated," Rogers said.

But Keystone has done some vaccine polling and the numbers show a lot of employees are reluctant to be inoculated.

"Forty percent of people overall indicate they're unwilling or unsure about taking the vaccine," Rogers said. "So, 40% is a big number. That's a big concern."

Keystone has also polled employees in Raleigh and Durham.

Rogers noted that in the local poll, 39% of employees said senior managers have not yet revealed their company's vaccination plans.

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They may be surprised to find out immunization might be required at some point.

"Employers can mandate a vaccine as a condition for coming back to work," Rogers said.

But that can't happen until the vaccine gets full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has only granted emergency use at this point.

Even though some workplaces have required vaccines in the past, Rogers said Keystone doesn't recommend that.

"We, as HR consultants, would always recommend encouragement over requirement and persuade over punishment," he said, and he added that companies should even consider incentives like paying people for the time it takes to go get vaccinated.

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He recalled that a Houston hospital paid front-line workers $500 to get vaccinated.

But the biggest battle for employers may be the fight against misinformation, especially on social media.

"Address it head-on with good, credible research and data, so that you can show your employees what is true and what's not," Rogers said.

Rogers said he believes that with the initial roll-out of vaccines underway, this is the time for employers to start communicating with employees about their vaccine expectations and address any concerns.
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