United Airlines has decided all unvaccinated employees are to be placed under a temporary, unpaid leave of absence beginning Oct. 2, pending further evaluation of each case, it was announced Wednesday.
The carrier had announced last month that it would require nearly all of its 67,000 US employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 25, or risk termination.
However, the airline had said at that time that certain religious and health exemptions would be made on a case-by-case basis.
Staffers with religious exemptions will be placed on voluntary unpaid leave and those with medical exemptions will be placed on temporary medical leave, it was detailed. Both policies will go into effect on Oct. 2.
In the end, workers who had been granted religious exemptions for the company's recently-announced COVID-19 vaccine mandate will be forced to a temporary, unpaid leave of absence, according to an internal memo that cited a recent increase in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and related deaths due to the highly transmissible delta strain, averaging more than 140,000 new cases a day.
Kirk Limacher, the airline’s vice president of human resources stressed that it can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated coworkers and failed to specify a target date to lift the mandatory unpaid leave.
The leaves will differ based on each employee’s role at United. Customer-facing jobs like pilots, flight attendants and gate agents will not be able to return to work until the “pandemic meaningfully recedes,” the memo said.
Any employee who files for a religious or medical exemption and is rejected must be inoculated with their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 27 and be fully vaccinated within five weeks of the denial notice or face termination.
United had announced in August it would require all of its 67,000 US-based employees to be vaccinated. Workers were told to be fully vaccinated by Sept. 27, and send an image of a vaccine card to the company. More than half of the employees who were unvaccinated at that time have already complied with the requirement, according to The Washington Post.
Frontier and Hawaiian have copied United’s policy, but other carriers took different measures. Delta Air Lines said unvaccinated employees would be required to pay US $ 200 monthly in insurance surcharges and be tested for coronavirus weekly.