United Airlines employees who are unvaccinated for several reasons, including religious exemptions, will be put on temporary, unpaid personal leave effective October 2, 2021, according a memo to the employees.
United became the first major U.S. airline to impose vaccine mandate for its 67,000 U.S. employees or risk being fired. However, the airline had said it will make exemptions for religious, personal or health reasons.
The airline has now said that all employees who get an exemption, regardless of their role in the company will be on temporary, unpaid personal leave until specific safety measures for unvaccinated employees are instituted by the airline.
The airline added that this was necessitated as the state of the COVID pandemic in the U.S. has worsened since the August 6 vaccine mandate announcement.
COVID infections are up 20 percent with new cases rising in almost every part of the country. There are close to 100,000 people in the hospital, and an average of 1,500 people are dying from COVID every day. All these statistics apply almost exclusively to the unvaccinated.
The airline wrote, “We are working hard to ensure the safety of our employees and customers while accommodating those employees who have sincerely held religious beliefs. Each submission for accommodation will be reviewed individually and will comply with any applicable collective bargaining agreement.”
The company said if an employee’s exemption is denied, they will be required to get fully vaccinated within five weeks from the date of the denial notice and have to get their first shot by September 27. If the employee does get their first shot by September 27, or do not get fully vaccinated within five weeks from the date of the denial notice, the employee will be separated from the company.
Meanwhile, all employees whose request is approved will be placed on temporary, unpaid personal leave from October 2, while specific safety measures for unvaccinated employees are instituted. United is in the process of developing and implementing safety protocols for the variety of work areas and locations across the system.
The airline added that it can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until it better understands how they might interact with the customers and their vaccinated co- workers.
Once the pandemic meaningfully recedes, the employee will be welcomed back to the team on active status, which may include other, safety-related workplace measures that do not exist today, the airline noted.
While the airline expects to provide an update regarding the timing for return from temporary, unpaid personal leave by mid-October, the employees official return to work date might be significantly later. The airline warned that any violation of the safety protocols made as part of this mandate will mean discipline up to and including termination.
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