United Airlines is the US's most aggressive airline when it comes to mandating vaccinations for employees. United Airlines is taking this one step further and offering unpaid leave to employees who have requested a religious exemption from vaccination.
Uniteds updates on religious exemptions
United Airlines announced in August that all employees will be required to get vaccinated. The only exception is for very narrow reasonable accommodations (as required under law) for religious or medical exemptions.
First, United Airlines has made significant progress in vaccinating its employees. Over half of all employees who were not vaccinated since the announcement of the mandate to vaccinate them in August have been vaccinated. However, there are still a lot of people who have not been vaccinated.
United Airlines will place employees who have requested a temporary, unpaid personal exemption from the coronavirus vaccination requirement on personal leave starting October 2, 2021. Only employees who are approved for religious exemptions can return to work once new safety and testing procedures have been completed.
United Airlines is still in the process of approving these religious exemptions. But once that happens:
If employees are denied religious exemptions, they must get vaccinated within five working weeks. Otherwise, they will be fired
Only employees who are approved for religious exemptions will be permitted to return to work after the pandemic has ended in a meaningful way.
This is what the airline explained to its employees in a memo:
We cannot allow non-vaccinated workers back to the workplace due to the terrible statistics.
United is bold to take this position
Religion can be a complicated thing. The United States has religious freedom, which is great. There's no one right or wrong belief system. Everybody can believe whatever they want. Some people use religion to spread love, inclusion, hate, and division. Others use it for very bizarre positions.
Without being asked, people can attribute any religion they like without being challenged. We are now at a crossroads when public health is at stake. Is it reasonable for anyone to say that a person's religion should stop them from being vaccinated? For better or worse, nobody can decide what is reasonable about another religion.
United presents this in a unique way. The airline isn't telling people they can't hold their beliefs but is stating that it is not willing to allow them to work. I am certain that United will be facing significant lawsuits from its employees. You don't often see companies challenging the claim of religious accommodation. But that is exactly what United is doing. I'm curious to see what happens.
United Airlines will require all employees to get vaccinated. There are a few exceptions for religious and medical reasons. The airline is now putting employees on unpaid leave because it appears that many employees have asked for a religious exemption from vaccination.
Although the airline claims this is happening while procedures for accommodating these employees are being figured out, I believe it safe to say that it goes beyond that and is meant to send a message. It remains to be seen how this works out.