On Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas ordered United Airlines to delay its plans of putting unvaccinated employees who requested a medical or religious exemption on unpaid leave.
When United announced its vaccine mandate, 90% of pilots and 80% of their flight attendants were vaccinated. However, a small number of employees refused to get the COVID19 vaccine and requested for either a medical or a religious exemption. According to United’s strict policy, unvaccinated employees will either face termination or take unpaid leave. Those given a medical or religious exemption will have to go on unpaid leave.
Six employees sued the airline arguing that going on unpaid leave is not a reasonable option. US District Judge Mark Pittman issued a temporary restraining order on United’s plan to put its unvaccinated employees who requested religious or medical exemption on unpaid leave. However, the temporary restraining order will only last until October 26. This will give the federal judge enough time to hear arguments at a later date.
United Airlines responded to the decision. In its statement, “Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United’s US employees have chosen to get a shot”. The carrier added that “For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk of their health and safety”. United elaborated that the carrier is putting options such as “new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols”.
Vaccine Mandates Becoming a Norm in the Airline Industry
Vaccine mandates are now becoming a norm in the airline industry. Major US airlines including American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and JetBlue required employees to get the COVID19 vaccine.
The Biden administration announced that federal contractors and businesses with more than 100 employees should require vaccination. But for airlines that fall under the category of a federal contractor, the carriers don’t have the option to offer regular testing on their unvaccinated employees.
Pushback Against the Vaccine
Companies experienced pushback on these vaccine mandates. Aside from United employees, Southwest pilots also asked a court to temporarily block their airline’s vaccine mandate. There were even speculations that Southwest’s terrible weekend filled with widespread cancelations was due to employees walking out.