United Airline puts Vaccination Exempt Employees on Unpaid Leave

Last month, United Airlines told their 67,000 employees that they could receive religious, personal, and medical exemptions for required covid-19 vaccinations. They have now reversed course and announced that those employees who requested exemptions would directly be placed on unpaid administrative leave due to a rise in the covid cases. The unpaid leave will go into effect starting next month.

There is an inconsistency between the airline carriers in regards to how they are dealing with unvaccinated workers. Delta Airlines is charging a $200 surcharge on unvaccinated worker’s healthcare premiums. Delta, American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines will end the pay protections in place for unvaccinated workers who contract or are exposed to the virus. During the announcement, United let workers know that if their request for a religious exemption is denied, they have five weeks to obtain the vaccine and get their shot by September 27 or be terminated.

United said, “Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and airport customer service agents who interact with customers who are granted those exemptions can return to work “once the pandemic meaningfully recedes.” They did not give a specific timeline of when this would be and instead said, “Once the pandemic meaningfully recedes.”

In regards to their other employees, such as mechanics and dispatchers who were granted religious exemptions, they can return to work after United implements other safety measures, like weekly testing and mandatory masking at all times. United is “Still determining safety measures for office workers with exemptions and whether they need to come in at all.”

United’s President Brett Harvey attempted to respond to the criticism by saying, “We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,…But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work and the facts are crystal clear. Everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.” Westjet, the Canadian airline, also announced vaccine mandates for their employees beginning October 30.

United’s move to mandate vaccines could open them up to future lawsuits. According to The Daily Wire, “Employees who allege their rights were violated when the airline granted them a religious exemption but essentially punished them for exercising their First Amendment rights.” Time will tell if their moves pay off or cost them severe losses in discrimination lawsuits.


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