Employees Sue United Airlines over Vaccine Mandate

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. September 23, 2021
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a United Airlines plane at an airport gate

​Six employees have sued United Airlines over its vaccine mandate for workers, arguing they weren't reasonably accommodated for religious or medical exemptions. We've gathered articles on the situation from SHRM Online and other news outlets.

Lawsuit May Result in Class Action of Thousands of Employees

Under United's policy, workers who have been granted exemptions are placed on unpaid leave while the company looks for ways to reintegrate them through enhanced testing and masking. Those who work on flights and interact with customers will have to stay on leave until the pandemic "meaningfully recedes," the airline informed workers. 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)

Policy's Impact on Other Employees

Employees who rarely deal with passengers, such as baggage handlers and mechanics, and whose exemptions are approved will be put on leave until the airline has a plan for weekly testing and mandatory mask wearing for them.

(FOX Business)

Most United Employees Are Vaccinated

The company has said that 97 percent of its employees are vaccinated. "United will start the separation process as early as Sept. 28," said a spokesperson, who noted that only a "small number" of workers have requested exemptions. "The good news is that large majorities of our employees continue to upload their vaccination records."

(CNN)

One Union's Criticism of Policy

United says its policy has one purpose: "to keep our people safe." But on Sept. 17, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers criticized the policy. "We encourage members to get vaccinated as long as doing so is safe for each individual, but we do not believe United should accomplish vaccinations through a mandate under threat of termination," the union stated.

(Flight Global)

Other Airlines' Vaccination Policies

Other unions at United Airlines issued statements supporting the company's vaccine mandate. While other major airlines aren't yet following in United's path, Frontier Airlines announced it will require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or regularly provide proof of negative tests. Hawaiian Airlines told staff they must receive their second shot, if they are getting a two-dose vaccine, by Nov. 1. Delta Air Lines requires new hires to be vaccinated and announced that a health premium surcharge will be imposed on workers who aren't vaccinated by November.

(SHRM Online) and (SHRM Online)

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Asking Vaccination Status

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

The Department of Health & Human Services has clarified the HIPAA Privacy Rule does not prohibit an employer from requesting an employee’s vaccination status as part of the terms and conditions of employment.

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