Unvaccinated United Airlines employees given religious exemptions will be placed on temporary, unpaid leave

Employees denied religious exemptions who refuse vaccination will be 'separated from the company'

Any United Airlines employee who has been given a religious exemption from getting a coronavirus vaccine will be placed on temporary, unpaid personal leave starting in October. 

The policy, which takes effect on Oct. 2, will remain in place until "specific safety measures for unvaccinated employees are instituted," Kirk Limacher, United's vice president of human resources, said in a memo to employees. 

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This applies to customer-facing roles such as pilots, flight attendants and customer service agents, according to the memo.  

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"There are close to 100,000 people in the hospital, and an average of 1,500 people are dying from COVID every day," Limacher said. "All these statistics apply almost exclusively to the unvaccinated."

"Given the dire statistics listed above, we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated co-workers," Limacher added. 

In the memo, Limacher noted concerns regarding the "steep increases in COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths" in unvaccinated people. 

UNITED AIRLINES REQUIRING ALL EMPLOYEES TO GET VACCINATED

According to the airline, the seven-day average of daily COVID deaths is the highest it's been since March and infections are up 20%, with new cases popping up all over the nation. 

United Airlines employees work at ticket counters in Terminal 1 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, on Oct. 14, 2020.  (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File / AP Newsroom)

Employees placed on temporary leave will be able to work once new testing and safety procedures are in place, according to the memo. The airline expects to update affected employees about their return date by mid-October although their "official return to work date might be significantly later." 

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Employees who are immediately denied a religious exemption will be required to get vaccinated within five weeks of being denied or they must get their first shot by Sept. 27. If they don't, they'll be "separated from the company," according to the memo. 

"Given the large number of people who work at and travel through our operation daily, we need to do everything we can to ensure their safety," Limacher said. "As we said when we introduced our vaccination policy, everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated."  

Early last month, the airline announced that all U.S.-based employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 25 at the latest or risk termination.