Southwest Airlines has reversed course on a plan to put all unvaccinated staff on unpaid leave in early December.
The airline had previously said that all staff members who haven’t gotten vaccinated or received a medical or religious exemption by Dec. 8 would be placed on unpaid leave, a position that had been met with anger and protests from some employees. Labor unions for airline pilots have also expressed opposition to vaccine mandates.
Julie Weber, Southwest’s vice president and chief people officer, and Steve Goldberg, senior vice president of operations and hospitality, told employees that they can continue working after Dec. 8 if their exemption requests have still not been approved.
“This is a change from what was previously communicated. Initially, we communicated that these Employees would be put on unpaid leave and that is no longer the case,” the duo said in the internal communique, according to CNBC.
A spokesman for Southwest confirmed the policy change to the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. He said unvaccinated staff members will be allowed to come to work after the deadline as long as they follow the masking and distancing guidelines applicable to their position.
“While we intend to grant all valid requests for medical and/or religious accommodations, in the event a request is not granted, the company will provide adequate time for an employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols,” the spokesman said.
The news comes after a turbulent week for the airline, which faced thousands of canceled and delayed flights over the course of several days. While some on social media speculated that the cancellations were the result of a “sickout,” the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association denied that resistance to vaccination played a role in the mess.
“There are false claims of job actions by Southwest Pilots currently gaining traction on social media and making their way into mainstream news. I can say with certainty that there are no work slowdowns or sickouts either related to the recent mandatory vaccine mandate or otherwise,” it said in a statement. “SWAPA has not authorized, and will not condone, any job action.”
The Biden administration has mandated that all businesses with more than 100 employees require vaccination or proof of negative COVID-19 tests for workers. The edict is stricter for companies with federal contracts, including Southwest. The administration mandated that those employees must be vaccinated or have an exemption but does not provide the out of testing for those who don’t want to be inoculated and don’t have a valid exemption.
The exact guidance on the mandates from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not yet been put forward.
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Original Author: Zachary Halaschak