While many airlines are requiring employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccination or penalizing them for refusing, KLM has told employees it will not force them to receive the jab.
KLM: No Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has notified employees that it will not require them to undergo inoculations for COVID-19 in order to stay employed. Instead, it has asked them to simply inform KLM of their choice so that they can be scheduled accordingly. A memo to employees notes:
KLM will not compel its staff to receive a Covid-19 vaccination. This remains an employee’s personal choice. However, KLM does need to know which employees cannot meet certain entry requirements and who, consequently, cannot be deployed to all our destinations. Employees to whom this applies have been asked to report to KLM Health Services, who will communicate the travel restriction to the KLM planning department.
Why collect this information now? KLM explains that a growing list of nations are adding vaccine requirements, even to airline cabin crew:
In a constantly changing world, we are seeing that more and more countries are making it obligatory for aircrews to be vaccinated, or are considering such a move. Trinidad & Tobago is introducing a vaccination obligation for aircrews on 16 October. Canada and other countries have also indicated that they are considering introducing a vaccination obligation for aircrews soon. Moreover, an increasing number of the hotels where our crews stay now expect to be shown proof of vaccination.
Will this be a permanent move? It appears that KLM is hedging its bets by warning of an increasingly “complicated” world of travel. It points out that vaccine mandates may not just apply to destination countries, but also overflight countries so that there are no complications in case of an unplanned diversion:
We expect more countries to introduce a vaccination obligation in the near future, which means we will be unable to deploy unvaccinated crew to these destinations. This may also apply to routes over countries that have a vaccination obligation for aircrews. This is due to strict flight safety requirements, which demand that it is always possible for a flight to change course and land in an emergency. For the time being, KLM will do its best to deploy crew with travel restrictions on flights to destinations that do not have entry requirements. But, as the number of countries with a vaccination obligation grows, so too will the associated operational complications for KLM.
Still, KLM has gone to great lengths to protect an employee’s privacy. As it explains:
KLM Health Services will register this as a travel restriction, so that unvaccinated crew are not deployed to destinations with entry requirements which they cannot meet. This is in line with standard KLM procedures for crew members who have travel restrictions for personal, visa or health reasons. Managers do not have access to the reasons behind a travel restriction.
Is KLM Constrained By The Law?
KLM has chosen not to require employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19. Such a policy choice may simply reflect limitations due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which protects privacy rights. While this is a qualified right rather than absolute right, it is not clear if a vaccine mandate could withstand judicial scrutiny. It will certainly be tested in the months ahead.
For now, KLM employees may choose not to be vaccinated–they just must report their choice to KLM. Only time will tell whether this solution will be viable on a longterm basis.