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United to Roll Back Unvaccinated Worker Policy

After being the first major U.S. airline to require workers to get inoculated against COVID-19, United Airlines will start allowing unvaccinated employees to return to the workplace.
Executives at United Airlines will reportedly change direction on their hardline COVID-19 vaccination policy, opening the door for those who have chosen not to get the shot.


The Wall Street Journal reports the airline will welcome back unvaccinated workers by the end of March 2021.


Changes Come After Court Orders Policy Review

The policy changes were revealed by unnamed sources within the company who spoke to The Wall Street Journal. According to their report, the small group of workers will be allowed to return to their original jobs before the policy went into effect. This includes those who applied to move into non-public facing roles due to their unvaccinated status.


This move comes after Reuters reports the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals returned a lawsuit filed by a group of unvaccinated employees back to the district court for a second review. The previous decision allowed the three percent of employees who had an approved medical or religious exemption to continue to get paid, costing the carrier nearly $3 million per month.


Approximately 2,000 workers were placed on unpaid leave after the October 2021 deadline to provide proof of vaccination status. Despite an estimated 593 firings over refusal to comply with the mandate, the Chicago-based airline only fired 200 employees for not getting the shot and not seeking an exemption. Those employees will not be eligible to be rehired, while all new employees will still be required to provide proof of vaccination prior to their start date.


United has not publicly commented on the report.


Policy Could Have Domino Effect for Employees of Other Airlines

With United’s reported move, employees who have not gotten vaccinated against the novel Coronavirus at other airlines may now have an avenue for reprieve. Southwest Airlines employees staged protests over vaccine mandates, while American Airlines joined partners Alaska Airlines and JetBlue to require their workers to get the shot.


It’s equally unclear if the change in policy will run afoul of a mandate set by The White House in January 2022. Through an executive order, President Joe Biden required federal contractors and subcontractors – including airlines – to implement a vaccine mandate for employees.