United Airlines employees who have religious exemptions for vaccine mandate will be placed on a temporary unpaid leaving effective next month, citing reasons for the recent rise in COVID cases.

The airline had announced its vaccine mandate for its 67,000 workforces. However, it noted that it would consider exemptions for religious and personal beliefs, as well as medical reasons, according to a CNBC report.

United said that if an employee's request for religious exemption is denied, they should be vaccinated within five weeks of the reject notice, with the first shot on September 27 or they will be terminated.

The airline company had released a memo saying that with the dire statistics of COVID, they can no longer allow unvaccinated people back in their workplace until they have a better understanding of how these employees might interact with customers and vaccinated coworkers.

Pilots, flight attendants, and other customer-facing employees with religious exemptions will remain off indefinitely, according to a Reuters report.

United said that once the pandemic numbers have been meaningfully decreased, they will be welcomed back to the team on active status.

Other employees with religious exemptions can return to work, particularly those who are mechanics and dispatchers.

Airline office workers are still pending determination for their safety measures or if they need to come in at all.

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Airline Vaccine Mandates

Airline companies were earlier split on their decisions whether to require vaccination to their flight attendants and pilots.

United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines earlier said that they will be requiring vaccination to their employees, while Alaska Airlines were considering a similar mandate once the Food and Drug Administration gives one of the vaccines full approval, which the agency did for Pfizer.

Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines said that they are encouraging vaccination, but not requiring it, according to another CNBC report.

Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines had increased by $200 the insurance premiums of their unvaccinated employees due to the high costs of employees who are hospitalized with the virus.

Labor unions for pilots said that vaccines should remain voluntary for their members.

Some unions were also arguing that airlines could do more to jumpstart vaccination rates in their companies with incentives such as extra time off to get vaccinated.

Mike Klemm noted that about a third of the employees oppose the mandate.

Klemm is the president of an association representing 28,000 customer and ramp service workers at United.

United is currently offering days for workers who get vaccinated. However, Klemm noted that it should offer more.

He added that if the company were to increase the incentives, more people would be encouraged to be vaccinated.

United CEO, Scott Kirby, said that it was a highly charged decision and would invite criticism either way.

FDA granted its full approval to Pfizer, prompting government officials to call private companies to mandate vaccines in their workforce.

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Written by: Mary Webber

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