RALEIGH – More companies in the Triangle are likely to follow in the steps of tech powerhouses IBM and Red Hat which on Thursday disclosed mandatory vaccinations for employees or else lose their jobs – at least temproarily. So says a lawyer focused on labor and employment issues.

Alreaady, nearly 12,000 workers in the Raleigh area are at risk if they chose not to be vaccinated. That includes some 8,000 IBMers in the Triangle (based on figures in The Triangle Book of Lists from the Triangle Business Journal) and some 3,700 at Red Hat – a number disclosed by a Red Hat spokesperso.

Red Hat said workers would lose their jobs if they ignore the mandate; IBM said workers would be put on an unpaid leave of absence.

SAS also has mandated thousands of workers – including at its headquarters in Cary – be vaccinated. To date, numerous other firms have required workers be vaccinated before returning to work in offices.

Asked by WRAL TechWire if the IBM-Red Hat moves will serve as precedent for other companies to do the same, S. McKinleyy Gray III of law firm Ward and Smith, P.A. responded:

“Yes, absolutely, we are certain that other companies will follow suit, particularly after OSHA issues its Emergency Temporary Standard, which could be any day now.”

IBM: Workers must be vaccinated or ‘put on unpaid leave of absence’

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been working on setting such regulations since President Biden called for mandatory vaccinations to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in September.

“Those anticipated federal regulations will force companies to decide whether they will bear the actual cost of testing unvaccinated employees or whether they will simply opt to require all workers to be vaccinated,” Gray said.

(Ward and Smith recently published an overview of what’s happening regarding the vaccination mandates as well as wage-and-hour requirements for testing ).

IBM and Red Hat (which is owned by IBM) said Thursday they were requiring a federal mandate that government contractors require employees be vaccinated. Both firms have government contracts.

Red Hat CEO: Employees must be vaccinated or lose their jobs

However, an IBM spokesperson and Red Hat CEO Paul Paul Cormier also said the company was following science in requiring vaccinations in order to protect workers.

Right now, workers have little legal ground on which to stand to fight the mandates, Gray said.

“Whether workers have any recourse will be determined by the courts. Our best guess is that the workers impacted by these decisions will have extremely limited recourse,” he explained. “That said, there are lawsuits that have been filed throughout the country related to mandatory vaccination policies, so we will have to see how those play out.”

Workers who are fired also could lose more than their salaries.

“Companies that fire workers for being unvaccinated could deny those workers severance or other unvested benefits,” Gray warned.

As for any unemployment benefits that might be lost, Gray said: “That’s a question for the NC Department of Employment Security, which is the governing agency for unemployment benefits.”

So-called federal COBRA, or Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, continuing health insurance coverage is not likely to be affected, he added.

“Yes, typically these workers would be eligible for COBRA,” Gray said.

SAS to workers: Get vaccinated or you could be fired