United Airlines says it will put workers with vaccine exemptions on temporary leave or reassign them so they won't face customers

United Airlines says it will put workers with vaccine exemptions on temporary leave or reassign them so they won't face customers
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Paul Chinn/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
  • United Airlines workers with vaccine exemptions "won't be in front of customers" after September 27.

  • That's the deadline for staff to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or seek an exemption.

  • Exempted staff will be reassigned or put on temporary leave so they're not in customer-facing roles.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

United Airlines is preparing to make some changes for workers with COVID-19 vaccine exemptions.

The company has previously said all of its staff either need to be fully vaccinated or apply for a vaccine exemption by September 27. Now, United CEO Scott Kirby says workers with an exemption will be reassigned or put on temporary leave after that deadline.

"For all of our customer-facing employees - so a pilot, a flight attendant, a gate agent, anyone that a customer would interact with - for those exemptions we're going to work to find some other places for people to work," Kirby told CNN's New Day on Thursday. "But alternatively they're going to go on temporary leave on September 28 until we get to a point where we think COVID is enough, that it's safe for them to be back in the workforce. It'll be a small number of people, but they won't be in front of customers after September 27."

Workers who take the temporary leave can return post-COVID with the same level of seniority, but they won't be paid during this leave, Kirby continued in the interview.

He added that, according to employee submissions of proof of vaccine, the company's management ranks are roughly 95% vaccinated now, and nearly 90% of the entire company is fully vaccinated. Kirby clarified that "a lot" of the remaining 5% and 10%, respectively, are actually vaccinated but just haven't uploaded their proof of vaccination yet. He also said employees with exemptions make up a fraction - not all - of the remaining 5% and 10%.

Kirby went on to say United has accepted "most" of the exemption requests it received but denied some after vetting them.

When asked if any workers had resigned over the vaccine mandate, Kirby said only "a handful" had quit over the requirement.

"The ones that I'm aware of are in single-digits number of people," he said. "We're going to have more by the time it finishes, but it's going to be a very low number of people that ultimately choose to leave."

Delta Air Lines shared similar findings a few days ago. Its chief health officer, Henry Ting, said Delta hasn't seen any employee turnover or resignations over the company's requirement that unvaccinated workers pay $200 more per month for health insurance. Southwest Airlines is also adding incentives for workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The carrier said this week that it is giving fully vaccinated staff 16 hours of extra pay and cutting sick pay for unvaccinated workers who get COVID-19.

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