United Airlines ends vaccine mandate for staff after firing hundreds of employees

Unvaccinated employees will be allowed to resume customer facing roles

Lucy Thackray
Thursday 10 March 2022 10:35 GMT
United Airlines was the first US airline to implement a vaccine requirement for staff
United Airlines was the first US airline to implement a vaccine requirement for staff (Getty Images)

United Airlines has told unvaccinated staff they may return to work at the end of March, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Chicago-based airline was the first to implement a vaccine mandate in August 2021, firing around 200 of its 67,000 employees who refused to get vaccinated - including six pilots.

Other staff who could not be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons were either moved into non-customer-facing roles or asked to take unpaid leave.

Now these redeployed and suspended employees are to be allowed back to work at the end of the month, sources told the WSJ.

However, it is understood that those who were dismissed under the vaccine requirement will not be re-hired by the airline.

Confirming the number of employees dismissed in December 2021, CEO Scott Kirby said, “We did this for safety. We believe it saved lives.”

In a note sent to staff in early January, Mr Kirby reiterated his confidence in the vaccine policy, saying, “our vaccine requirement is working”.

“While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for Covid, zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized,” he added.

“Since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been 100 x lower than the general population in the US.

“Prior to our vaccine requirement, tragically, more than one United employee on average per week was dying from Covid. But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero Covid-related deaths among our vaccinated employees.”

In September, a group of six United Airlines employees filed a lawsuit against the company in response to its decision to make Covid vaccinations mandatory for staff.

“United’s actions have left Plaintiffs with the impossible choice of either taking the Covid-19 vaccine, at the expense of their religious beliefs and their health, or losing their livelihoods,” argued the group’s legal team.

In February, a federal appeals court ruled that the judge who had denied the employees’ request must reconsider it.

The Independent has contacted United for comment.

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