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United Airlines Will Put Unvaccinated Staff Who Claim a Religious Exemption on Unpaid Leave

United Airlines Will Put Unvaccinated Staff Who Claim a Religious Exemption on Unpaid Leave

United Airlines has doubled down on its wide-reaching employee vaccine mandate by ordering workers who are claiming a religious exemption to go on unpaid leave. Some workers who have successfully argued their religious beliefs prevent them from having the COVID-19 shot could go without pay for many months and won’t be allowed to return to work until the “pandemic meaningfully recedes”.

United became the first U.S. airline to issue a vaccine mandate and ordered all 67,000 U.S.-based employees to show proof of full vaccination within five weeks of a COVID-19 vaccine receiving full FDA approval, or by October 25 – whichever date came first.

On August 20, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it had given full approval to the vaccine formally known as the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine. Now that it has received full approval, the jab is marketed by Pfizer as Comirnaty (pronounced: koe-mir’-na-tee).

United quickly informed employees that they had until September 27th to prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Workers can have their second shot on that date or the single-shot J&J Janssen vaccine on the same date.

The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has ruled that disability and equal rights laws don’t prevent an employer from issuing a mandate that stops unvaccinated employees from physically entering the workplace.

But in some circumstances, an employer should provide “reasonable accommodations” when a disability or a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents an employee from getting vaccinated.

An employer can, however, decline to offer an exemption if doing so would lead to “undue hardship” on the operation of their business.

On Wednesday, United informed pilots, flight attendants, gate agents and airport customer service agents who have been granted a religious exemption that they won’t be allowed to return to work until the “pandemic meaningfully recedes”.

Some workers, like mechanics and dispatchers, will also be forced to take unpaid leave but will be allowed to return to work once United has implemented new testing protocols.

Workers who have their exemption applications denied will be told to get their first shot by September 27 or face dismissal. Staffers who successfully argue they should be given a medical exemption will be placed on indefinite medical leave.

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