Court Ordered to Reconsider United Airlines’ Vaccine Policy

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. February 22, 2022

​The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 17 that a district court judge must reconsider whether to block United Airlines' policy giving employees a choice between receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or being placed on unpaid leave indefinitely. We've gathered articles on the news from SHRM Online and other media outlets.

Irreparable Harm

The district court had denied employees' request to block United from placing them on unpaid leave while the court considers the case, determining that they failed to show they would suffer imminent, irreparable harm.

The 5th Circuit ruled that the employees are "actively being coerced to violate their religious convictions," which is an irreparable harm. The 5th Circuit did not determine whether United could impose a vaccine requirement and did not rule on whether United should be blocked from placing employees who sought religious or medical exemptions on unpaid leave.

(Chicago Tribune)

'Impossible Choice'

The decision to get vaccinated or go on leave "is an impossible choice for plaintiffs who want to remain faithful but must put food on the table," said the majority 5th Circuit opinion from Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Andrew Oldham.

(AP via

United Defends Its Policy

United said in a statement, "There's no doubt our vaccine requirement has saved lives and kept our employees out of the hospital. … We will continue to vigorously defend our policy."

In a dissent to the 5th Circuit decision, Judge Jerry Smith said the majority wanted to "play CEO of a multinational corporation" and "shatters every dish in the china shop," adding "for every conceivable reason that the plaintiffs could lose this appeal, they should."


District Court Ruling

Last year, a federal district court upheld a United Airlines policy that requires workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or placed on unpaid leave if they have a medical or religious exemption. United has provided about 2,000 vaccine exemptions to its workers.

(SHRM Online)

One Union's Criticism of Policy

United has said its policy has one purpose: "to keep our people safe." But on Sept. 17, 2021, 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.




Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.