Court Puts United Airlines’ Vaccination Mandate on Hold

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

​On Oct. 12, a federal district court temporarily halted United Airlines' vaccination mandate, keeping the employees who challenged the policy on the payroll while litigation proceeds. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

United Planned to Put Employees with Medical, Religious Exemptions on Leave

Less than 3 percent of United's 67,000 employees requested an exemption for religious or medical reasons. United said that if the medical exemptions were granted, the employees would be placed on medical leave, which may or may not be paid, depending on union contracts. Employees whose religious exemptions were granted would be placed on indefinite unpaid leave but retain seniority rights if they later returned to the company. Six employees sued, seeking to stay on the payroll.

"The court is not currently ruling on the merits of the parties' arguments," the judge said. "Rather, the court seeks simply to avoid the risk of irreparable harm to the parties and to maintain the status quo while the court holds an evidentiary hearing."


Judge's Subsequent Remark

On Oct. 13, the judge told United Airlines and plaintiffs during a hearing that he was wary of ordering a private company to change its policy.


United Airlines' Statement

"Vaccine requirements work and nearly all of United's U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot," United Airlines said in a statement. "For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we're working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols." The judge's temporary restraining order expires Oct. 26.


Lawsuit Brought in Texas

The lawsuit was brought in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order banning vaccine mandates in the state. "The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective and our best defense against the virus, but should remain voluntary and never forced," Abbott said.

(ABC 7 Chicago) and (SHRM Online)

Class Action Is Possible

The plaintiffs, who seek to represent a nationwide class of more than 2,000 United employees, said the policy effectively means they must choose between their beliefs or health and their livelihoods. "We're reviewing this complaint in greater detail but at this point, we think it's without merit," an airline spokesperson said.

(The Wall Street Journal)

Three Unions Support Vaccine Mandate

United says its policy has one purpose: "to keep our people safe." Three unions at United Airlines supported the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate. However, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers criticized the policy on Sept. 17.

(SHRM Online) and (SHRM Online)

Company Vaccine Mandates Now Common Among Airlines

All major U.S. airlines but Delta have a policy mandating employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Delta Air Lines will charge unvaccinated workers a $200 monthly premium surcharge as of Nov. 1.

(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), (SHRM Online) and (CNBC)

Vaccine Mandate Is Imminent for Medium to Large Employers

On Sept. 9, President Joe Biden announced plans for a new rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to mandate that their workers be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. The president also signed orders stipulating that most federal employees and federal contractors, as well as most health care workers across the country, be vaccinated against COVID-19.

(SHRM Online)



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