United Airlines Holdings Inc. can proceed with its strict Covid-19 vaccine mandate for its employees, a U.S. federal judge ruled. The airline’s vaccine mandate places staff who receive medical or religious exemptions on unpaid leave.
In the lawsuit filed by six United employees questioning the mandate, U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman in Fort Worth, Texas rejected employees’ arguments that the airline was improperly forcing them to choose between a vaccine or unpaid leave.
The plaintiffs alleged that the airline violated its legal obligations by not accommodating exempted employees, and that they would lose seniority and other benefits if placed on leave. They noted that most companies allow unvaccinated staff to continue in their role while submitting to regular testing and wearing a mask.
Meanwhile, the company argued that allowing unvaccinated employees in the workplace would undermine safety of its flights.
In his ruling, judge Pittman said that no employee was forced to accept a vaccine.
Responding to the ruling, United said that its around 2,000 unvaccinated staff who have been granted an exemption could apply for non-customer facing roles. If they refuse, they will be placed on leave.
The company said, “We are working to identify non-customer facing roles where accommodated employees can apply and continue working until it is safe for them to their return to their current positions.”
The Biden Administration has issued rules requiring companies with at least 100 employees to get their workers vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing.
United Airlines was the first major airline to issue compulsory vaccine mandate for all its 67,000 US employees, or to apply for a medical or religious exemption. The company terminated 232 employees who refused to either take vaccine or apply for exemptions on the grounds of violating a company safety policy.
In late October, banking major Citigroup had mandated vaccination against Covid-19 as a condition of employment in the United States. The Bank then said it would consider all requests for religious, medical or any other accommodation required by state or local law on a case by case basis.
Meanwhile, tech giant Apple Inc., which has not issued any vaccine mandate for its employees, reportedly will make it mandatory for the unvaccinated employees to get tested every day before starting their work at the office.
As of Sunday, the United States has administered around 430.93 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
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