CARY – SAS is telling its employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or face possible termination. So is drug giant Merck, which has a growing presence in North Carolina.

“With the FDA approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and the federal government’s recent Executive Orders, SAS is now mandating that all US SAS employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19 regardless of their work arrangement (fully remote, hybrid, on-campus),” a spokesperson told WRAL TechWire.

“Employees who are not vaccinated or granted an accommodation could be subject to actions, including termination,” he added.

However, there may be exceptions.

“[T]here are processes for those who would like to seek an exemption based on medical or religious reasons,” the spokesperson explained.

The spokesperson noted that people applying for jobs also face the vaccination requirement.

“Anyone hired to work at SAS is required to have proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or go through a medical or religious accommodations process,” he added.

Be vaccinated or be fired is rare among Triangle companies – at least so far (updated)

Vaccination requirements are spreading across the private sector after President Biden called last week for companies with more than 100 employees to mandate vaccinations.

SAS has more than 12,400 employees worldwide. Of those, just over 5,000 work at the company’s headquarters campus in Cary.

The privately held company had targeted reopening its Cary campus by November 1, 2021, at the earliest.

Head’s up in application process

In job applications forms online SAS states the following:

“In order to work at SAS, you must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. If there is a medical or religious reason preventing you from receiving an available COVID-19 vaccination, and you are selected as a candidate for consideration, we have an accommodations process in place to evaluate those requests.”

The vaccination requirement comes after SAS had recently begun requiring employees be vaccinated before being allowed to work at company offices.

“Employees are asked to continue with their current remote work arrangements until further notice,” said spokesperson Shannon Heath last week. “For employees who do work from a SAS office, including headquarters in Cary, they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, said Heath.

Heath added that “SAS continues its focus on employees and commitment to our flexible culture by offering employees options for how they return to work when it is safe to do so. This includes options for full-time on-campus, fully remote, or a hybrid option.”

Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria said the announcement shows both companies getting ahead of the game in keeping employees safe against COVID.

“I’m hoping they will serve as good examples in our community,” Calabria said. “I applaud them for getting ahead of the game and I hope that it will continue to increase the already high vaccination rates we have in the county.”

The Merck decision

Merck disclosed Wednesday a vaccination mandated for US-based workers as of Nov. 1.

“As a science-based healthcare company with a longstanding commitment to inventing and providing important medicines and vaccines, subject to local law, we will require all U.S.-based employees to be vaccinated by November 1, 2021, unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption or accommodation,” Merck said in a statement provided to WRAL News. “We are committed to supporting our employees during this process as we work to ensure a safe and healthy work environment.”

More than 800 people work at the Merck Treyburn operation. A $650  million expansion announced in 2019 will eventually add another 400 jobs.

In January of this year, Merck announced plans to further expand Treyburn operations and add another 100 jobs.

Merck also employs some 500 people at a plant in Wilson.

Biden meets with business leaders

The Preisdent meet with a number of business leaders at the White House on Wednesday, less than a week after Biden said that the Labor Department is working to require businesses with 100 or more employees to order those workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or show a negative test result at least weekly. That’s according to the Associated Press.

Some 80 million workers would be subject to the requirement, Biden said. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is working to issue an emergency rule to implement the requirement in the coming weeks, the wire service noted.

Biden said it would “take a little while” for the agency to put the new requirement “on the wall” alongside other health and safety policies, but noted that employer moves toward mandates are already moving to improve the nation’s laggard vaccination rate, the AP added. His administration hopes that the announcement of the rule-making will jumpstart the business community’s embrace of vaccinate-or-test requirements even before the OSHA rule is implemented.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Related SAS coverage

SAS postpones full reopening of global headquarters amid uptick in COVID cases

SAS requiring vaccinations before allowing employees to return to offices