Southwest Airlines to Keep Workers on Jobs Requesting Vaccination Exemptions: NPR

Southwest Airlines will let unvaccinated employees continue to work after early December instead of putting them on unpaid leave if they seek exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Morry Gash / AP


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Morry Gash / AP


Southwest Airlines will let unvaccinated employees continue to work after early December instead of putting them on unpaid leave if they seek exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Morry Gash / AP

DALLAS – Southwest Airlines will let unvaccinated employees continue to work after early December instead of putting them on unpaid leave if they seek exemption for medical or religious reasons.

Federal contractors – including major U.S. airlines – are facing a December 8 deadline to require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said on Tuesday that employees must provide proof that they have received the vaccines or file a request for a vaccination exemption by Nov. 24. Employees whose applications were not processed or approved by Dec. 8 will be allowed to keep working, she said.

The company reverted to a previous position that employees who had not been vaccinated or had not been granted an exemption would be placed on unpaid leave.

“While we intend to accommodate all valid accommodation requests, if a request is not granted, the company will provide sufficient time for an employee to be fully immunized while continuing to work and by adhering to security protocols, ”King said.

Southwest informed employees of the deadline delay on Friday.

American Airlines said on Tuesday that workers with medical or religious exemptions will likely need to wear face masks and undergo regular testing, but the airline is still working on the details.

“American will not put any team member on leave without pay as part of the federal vaccine mandate,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said.

Southwest and American are both based in Texas, where the Republican governor has ordered companies not to require employees or customers to be vaccinated. The two say they will comply with President Joe Biden’s federal mandate that contractors demand vaccination, which they say has legal priority over state orders.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly initially said in a statement that Southwest “must join our industry peers to comply with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive.”

In the days following that statement, however, the pilots’ union asked a judge to temporarily block the order, saying Southwest should negotiate with the union on the issue. A hearing is scheduled for Friday in federal court. This week, anti-warrant protesters demonstrated at the airline’s headquarters.

Kelly has expressed her personal reluctance about the vaccine’s mandate.

“We’re not going to fire any employees for this,” he told ABC-TV last week. “We urge all of our employees to get vaccinated. If they cannot get vaccinated, we urge them to look for accommodation.”

United Airlines, the first U.S. carrier to announce a vaccine requirement for its employees, has started firing proceedings against around 200 employees who neither received vaccines nor requested exemptions.

United, based in Chicago, has 67,000 employees in the United States. It says 96% were vaccinated and 3% – about 2,000 employees – requested an exemption. United is waiting for a Texas judge to rule on a lawsuit brought by employees challenging the airline’s decision to put employees on unpaid leave if they are granted an exemption.

Delta Air Lines Inc. has a less strict policy. Even though it’s a federal subcontractor, Delta says it will allow workers to undergo regular testing if they don’t want to be vaccinated, but they face a monthly surcharge of $ 200 on their Health Insurance. CEO Ed Bastian said last week that 90% of Delta employees are vaccinated and he expects that figure to reach 95% in November.

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