United doubles down on vaccine requirement with stringent policy for religious exemptions

Sep 9, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional information about unvaccinated employees.


Customer-facing employees at United Airlines who are approved for religious exemptions to the airline’s employee vaccine requirement will be required to go on an unpaid personal leave of absence Oct. 2, the airline said on Wednesday.

Front-line employees who are approved for medical exemptions will be placed on medical leave on the same date, which is paid or unpaid for different work groups.

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In the case of denied exemption requests, employees will have five weeks from when the denial is communicated to get vaccinated and provide documentation to United.

All other employees will be required to be vaccinated by Sept. 27, five weeks from when the Pfizer vaccine received full FDA approval.

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For non-customer-facing workers, such as baggage handlers and maintenance technicians, as well as management and administrative employees, the leaves for those with approved religious exemptions will be lifted as employees’ work-sites develop masking and testing protocols, a senior executive said.

For front-line workers, the leaves will be indefinite until the airline considers the pandemic to be over.

The policy was communicated in an internal memo to employees and a briefing with media.

“In determining the appropriate accommodations, we will take many factors into account including an employee’s work requirements and the metrics that illustrate the state of the COVID pandemic in the U.S.,” the airline wrote in the memo.

“Given the dire statistics listed above, we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated co-workers.”

The full memo is available at the bottom of this article.

About half of unvaccinated United employees have taken the shot since the mandate was announced, a senior airline executive said.

As discussion of compulsory vaccination in public and private workplaces has emerged, employers have noted the potential for lengthy litigation or other resistance, as the Washington Post reported.

More: Delta won’t hire you unless you’ve been vaccinated, CEO says

However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said in December that employees can legally require that existing and new employees be vaccinated, providing that employers provide “reasonable accommodation” in line with requirements defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Featured image courtesy of United Airlines.

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