Despite raging COVID-19 numbers, United Airlines will require an “Absence Certificate” for flight attendants who call in sick over the peak Christmas and New Years travel period. While not out of the ordinary, it takes on a new context during the pandemic.
United Will Require Proof Of Illness From Flight Attendants Who Call In Sick
Per §13.C.4 of United’s current flight attendant contact, United may require an “Absence Certificate” when flight attendants call in sick during the peak holiday period:
The Company may also require an Absence Certificate for all sick calls originating during the Fourth of July and Christmas holidays, which include July 1st to July 7th and December 20th to January 4th respectively. If the Company intends to require an Absence Certificate for sick calls occurring during such holiday period, the Company shall first notify the Union and give Flight Attendants adequate notice to be posted for the Fourth of July holiday period not later than June 14th and for Christmas not later than December 1st. Flight Attendants who have had no absences in the prior twelve (12) calendar months shall not be subject to the Absence Certificate requirement imposed during these holiday periods .
United chose to exercise its option, as it has in previous years, and notified flight attendants this week. The Association of Flight Attendants, the union representing United flight attendants, reminded flight attendants that an Absence Certificate is different than a doctor’s note.
An absence certificate is different from an physician’s note…The Absence Certificate contains personal medical information and must be submitted to United Medical, not your supervisor.
Flight attendants have 72 hours from calling in sick to submit the signed Absence Certificate.
Per a memo to flight attendants, the visit must be in-person:
The Absence Certificate must be prepared and signed by the physician after an in-person visit by the flight attendant to the physician’s office.
Unnecessarily Harsh Or A Vital Insurance Policy Against Abuse?
It was a flight attendant who reached out to me to let me know about this policy. She was upset and felt that all bets are off during this year of pandemic and United acted in an “unnecessarily harsh” manner by choosing to enforce this provision during this darkest hour of the pandemic in the United States. The note must be physically signed by a doctor, so Zoom meetings will not be sufficient. She further added that requirements like this encourage flight attendants to come to work sick.
But on the flipside, we need look only at what happened to Delta over Thanksgiving to see why United would want to have such a policy in place, even during a pandemic. Delta’s Thanksgiving problem was not due to flight attendants or pilots calling in sick, but due to insufficient pilot staffing. Imagine, however, if that was compounded by flight attendants or pilots who simply wanted to stay with their families over the holidays and faced no consequences for feigning illness. Even if only a tiny subset of flight attendants or pilots would even consider engaging in such action, one flight cancellation often has a disastrous rolling effect.
United will require flight attendants who call in sick over Christmas and New Years to produce a detailed “certificate” from their doctor that explains their illness. This is not a new requirement, but an existing requirement that will still be imposed this year. I have to imagine this policy was negotiated because “sick outs” do tend to rise during holiday periods and therefore requiring proof of illness seems reasonable. That said, I hope no flight attendant feels pressured to come to work when feeling ill.