United Airlines warns of unpaid leave for staff given religious vaccine exemptions

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United Airlines told its staff on Wednesday that those who are granted religious exemptions from getting vaccinated against the coronavirus will be placed on a temporary unpaid leave, CNBC reported.

In August, United became the first major U.S. airline to issue a vaccine mandate for its employees. Employees were given until five weeks after the Pfizer vaccine was granted full approval or until Oct. 25 to present proof of being fully vaccinated. As the Food and Drug Administration granted the Pfizer vaccine full approval on Aug. 23, employees will have until Sept. 27 to get fully vaccinated.

“We have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart said to employees in a memo obtained by The Hill last month.

Employees who directly interact with customers such as pilots, flight attendants and gate agents who are granted an exemption will be permitted to return to work “once the pandemic meaningfully recedes,” United reportedly said, though the airline did not specify a timeline.

Mechanics and dispatchers who are also given exemptions may return to work once United implements new testing procedures and other mitigation measures, according to CNBC.

The Hill has reached out to United for comment.

Unlike United, other major U.S. airlines like Southwest, American and Delta have decided against issuing vaccine mandates for their employees. Delta CEO Ed Bastian reasoned that the majority of his company’s workforce was already vaccinated while American Airlines decided to instead incentivize vaccinations with one extra vacation day next year.

Though it did not mandate vaccines for its employees, American Airlines last week took a harder stance on workers who contract COVID-19 and become ill, ending its special pandemic leave and requiring employees to use their own sick days.

“Given there is an FDA-approved vaccine, pandemic leave will only be offered to team members who are fully vaccinated and who provide their vaccination card to us,” American Airlines said to its staff, warning that it may mandate vaccines for its employees in the future if the virus continues to mutate.

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