United Airlines will delay placing employees on unpaid leave who obtained an exemption to its company-wide COVID-19 vaccine mandate, blaming a new class action lawsuit.
United Airlines Delays Unpaid Leave For Unvaccinated Employees Who Obtained Exemption To COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
In a memo to employees shared with Live and Let’s Fly, United acknowledges the lawsuit then notes:
- No employee approved for accommodation will be placed on unpaid leave prior to October 15, 2021
- Employees whose request for accommodation was denied, withdrawn, or cancelled will still have until the date communicated to them individually to get vaccinated or October 15th, whichever is later
- Employees who sought no exemption must still have received at least one vaccine shot by today, September 27, 2021
The memo further notes:
Safety remains our highest priority. We will continue to vigorously defend our policy – vaccine requirements have been around for decades and have served to keep airline employees and customers safe. And with the pandemic continuing to kill more than 2,000 people every day, we remain convinced that our vaccine policy saves lives. As of today, excluding employees who have submitted exemptions, 97% of United’s U.S. employees are vaccinated.
Did United Airlines Blink?
Does this move signify United Airlines may be backtracking on its goal of ensuring all employees are vaccinated? While the move comes as a surprise to many (including unions), I expected this from the very beginning.
Vaccine mandates have been historically litigated (and upheld), but in this pandemic era the lawsuit will be a case of first impression. With an overwhelming majority of employees now vaccinated, United is taking a wait-and-see approach in a pragmatic move to avoid potential damages while still encouraging employees to get vaccinated.
While United sets a new October 15th limit, I predict that date will be extended as we approach it since the lawsuit will not be resolved before that point, even if United files a motion for summary judgment (dismissal).
My prediction remains that United will ultimately back down against the small number of employees who continue to hold out against the COVID-19 vaccine.
United Airlines will not immediately place unvaccinated employees granted a reasonable accommodation exemption on unpaid leave. For now, it has pushed that date back two weeks to October 15, 2021. In doing so, it has signaled at least some concern over the new class action lawsuit fighting the mandate for employees seeking religious exemptions.
image: United Airlines