Appellate Court Upholds United’s COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. December 14, 2021

​United Airlines' COVID-19 vaccine requirement for its employees withstood another legal challenge, as a panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to stop the mandate. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Two-Sentence Order

The ruling came in a two-sentence order issued by the 5th Circuit on Dec. 13. The court also granted a motion to expedite an appeal in the case. The lawsuit challenges the airline's policy, which includes putting unvaccinated employees with a religious or medical objection to its policy on unpaid leave.

(BNN Bloomberg)

Dissenting Opinion

Judge James Ho dissented, saying he would have blocked the requirement, citing the workers' religious objections to the mandate. "Forcing individuals to choose between their faith and their livelihood imposes an obvious and substantial burden on religion. Make no mistake: Vaccine mandates like the one United is attempting to impose here present a crisis of conscience for many people of faith. It forces them to choose between the two most profound obligations they will ever assume—holding true to their religious commitments and feeding and housing their children," he wrote.

(Texas Lawyer via National Law Journal)

Rationale of District Court Judge Cited

The 5th Circuit's majority opinion cited the rationale made by a district court judge last month in upholding the company policy. The district court judge rejected arguments that United improperly put employees in an impossible position by forcing them to choose to receive a vaccine or be put on unpaid leave. The district court judge criticized United's approach toward employees seeking religious exemptions but said that HR policy is up to a company and no employee was forced to be vaccinated.


United's Statement

Following the district court decision, United said in a statement, "We know that the best way to keep everyone as safe as we can is for everyone to get vaccinated, as nearly all United employees have chosen to do." The airline said it will review COVID-19 transmission and case rates every 30 days to determine when it is safe to let unvaccinated employees resume their original roles.

(SHRM Online)

Supreme Court Declines to Block Vaccine Directive in New York

On Dec. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block New York's requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against COVID-19, even if they have religious objections. Justice Neil Gorsuch filed a dissent, joined by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., saying the court had betrayed its commitment to religious liberty. Justice Clarence Thomas also said he would have blocked the vaccine requirement.

(SHRM Online)



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