US airline forcing employees who don't get vaccinated for medical, religious reasons to stay home unpaid

Business Insider US
A Boeing 777/200 of United Airlines on July 30, 2020.
  • United Airlines has established a vaccination policy for employees who have requested a medical or religious exemption.
  • The policy allows temporary leave for employees with an approved religious or medical exemption beginning October 2.
  • Front-facing employees who have a denied exemption and do not get vaccinated will be separated from the company.
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United Airlines has strengthened its employee vaccination policy, which was already one of the strictest in the industry.

In early August, United announced it would require all employees to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by October 25, but pushed that deadline up to September 27 after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine.

In an email sent to employees Wednesday, United outlined its vaccination policy regarding workers that have applied for medical or religious accommodation. Here's the update according to United:

  • Front-facing operational workers, including flight attendants, pilots, and airport customer service agents, who have an approved religious exemption will be put on temporary, unpaid leave starting October 2. Those with an approved medical exemption will be put on medical leave consistent with the individual's collective bargaining agreement on October 2.
  • Front-facing operational employees that have their religious or medical exemption application denied will have five weeks to get fully vaccinated from the date of the denial or be separated from the company according to their CBA. Their first shot must be gotten by September 27.
  • Operational employees with minimal personal interaction, like ramp agents and mechanics, have the same policies as front-facing staff for denied medical and religious exemptions. However, because it is easier to social distance and a lot of the work is done outside, non-front-facing workers with an approved exemption will only remain on unpaid leave until United has established a safety policy for unvaccinated workers, like masks and testing.
  • For non-operational staff, like those who work at headquarters, will follow the same policies as non-front-facing workers. According to United, management employees do not have the option to work from home if they choose to not get the Covid vaccine because most are on a hybrid schedule, meaning they must occasionally report to the office for meetings or other critical work functions.

United explained that the decision to create a strict policy for front-facing workers was because the company does not want to put unvaccinated people in a high contact environment with colleagues and customers. Employees who were put on temporary, unpaid leave will be welcomed back to the company once the pandemic recedes to an acceptable level.

According to United, since its August 6 announcement requiring employees to be vaccinated, over half of its unvaccinated population have gotten the shot.

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