United Airlines employees with religious objections to Covid vaccine to be put on unpaid leave

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By Chris Isidore, CNN Business

(CNN) – United Airlines has told employees they will be put on indefinite unpaid leave if they refuse to be vaccinated against Covid for religious reasons.

The company’s vaccine mandate is much stricter than those imposed by many other companies, or those announced by President Joe Biden on Thursday. The federal mandate, and many already announced in other companies, gives employees the choice between getting vaccinated or having weekly Covid tests. At United, it’s basically about vaccination or dismissal.

While United is making accommodations for employees who have a valid medical or religious reason for not getting the vaccine, it revealed this week that there will be a fee for those who cite their religious belief as a reason for not getting the vaccine. .

“Given our focus on safety and the sharp increase in Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths, all employees approved for application will be placed on temporary personal leave without pay on October 2 while measures to Specific safety for unvaccinated employees is instituted, ”United’s memo said. to employees. “Given the dire statistics… we can no longer allow unvaccinated people to return to the workplace until we have a better understanding of how they might interact with our clients and their vaccinated colleagues.”

United said a decision on whether or not to accept an employee’s religious objections to the vaccination would be made on a case-by-case basis.

“We work hard to ensure the safety of our employees and customers while accommodating employees who sincerely hold religious beliefs,” the airline statement read.

United has 67,000 active employees in the United States covered by the mandate. Almost all non-managerial employees are represented by a union.

United’s major unions did not oppose the airline’s initial statement on a vaccine mandate in August. It was not clear whether most unions are prepared to challenge the airline’s position on unpaid leave for their members with religious objections to the vaccine. Some did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

“We are reviewing our legal and contractual options to support these pilots,” the Air Line Pilots Association said in response to a question.

However, the Teamsters union, which represents more than 6,000 of the airline’s mechanics, has simply said it “does not accept United Airlines’ position on this issue.”

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in the United States has advised employers that they can impose vaccines on their employees. But the agency also said allegations of religious objections generally should not be disputed by an employer and should be “generally presumed or easily established.”

Yet, no major religious denomination opposes the vaccination, despite some clergymen who have raised objections.

Even the Church of Christian Science, which teaches its members to use prayer rather than medicine to maintain their health in most cases, has not prohibited the use of the vaccine by its adherents. His statement calls on members to have “respect for public health authorities and conscientious obedience to the laws of the country, including those requiring vaccination.”

United employees on unpaid leave do not receive other benefits, such as medical insurance, although they can maintain their coverage by paying the full premium themselves under Cobra. They retain their seniority in the company during unpaid leave. And seniority is a major factor in determining the working conditions, pay and hours of employees in the airline industry.

United employees who have a medical reason not to get the vaccine will be put on paid leave, United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.

– CNN’s Kwegyirba Croffie contributed to this report


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