With COVID-19 numbers receding and a legal battle stalled, United Airlines will allow unvaccinated employees to return to work starting later this month.
United Airlines Will Let Unvaccinated Employees Return To Work On March 28, 2022
During the pandemic, United Airlines led its industry peers in mandating that its employees be vaccinated or face termination. Employees who were granted medical or religious exceptions were placed on unpaid leave or re-assigned to non-customer facing positions. Roughly 200 employees (out of 67,000) who refused vaccination and either did not seek an exemption or were not granted one, have been terminated.
But the roughly 2,200 workers who were granted an exception can begin to return to their old roles on March 28, 2022 The Wall Street Journal reports.
United’s vaccine mandate has been widely praised but contentious among a subset of employees, with several filing suit against United for the policy. A federal judge in Texas ruled the mandate and unpaid leave could proceed, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal found irreparable harm in employees “actively being coerced to violate their religious convictions” and ordered a lower court to review the request. While United might argue the issue is now moot (no live dispute for a court to resolve), a court may still end up ruling on this case to set a precedent for future vaccine mandates.
While a federal requirement for all airline employees to be vaccinated later kicked in, legacy carriers like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have not been nearly as strict in enforcing it and Delta pledged it would not terminate any employee for failing to be vaccinated (however, Delta is raising healthcare costs for those employees who refused the jab).
In the past, United has said it would allow unvaccinated workers to return to frontline roles based upon case and transmission levels, which have sharply dropped in recent days. However, United may place these employees in non-customer facing roles again if there is another surge.
United Airlines will allow unvaccinated employees, including customer-facing pilots, flight attendants, and airport staff members, on March 28th. Even so, a Texas court may still decide whether United can place these unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave or whether such conduct violates religious protections.
image: United Airlines (stock photo)