Southwest Drops Plan to Put Unvaccinated Staff on Unpaid Leave in December
19:55 GMT 19.10.2021 (Updated: 13:25 GMT 06.08.2022)
American Airlines and Southwest, which are both based in Texas, will still require their new-hire employees to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before their first day.
Southwest Airlines is dropping plans to put unvaccinated employees with pending exemptions on unpaid leave after the December deadline.
Instead, employees whose accommodations weren’t reviewed or approved by December 8 could continue to work while following COVID-19 guidelines. This comes after Southwest’s announcement earlier this month where they warned employees must be fully vaccinated by the deadline in order to keep their jobs.
Southwest issued a statement to NewsNation confirming their decision.
“If an accommodation has not been reviewed or approved by December 8, the Employee will continue to work, while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position, until the accommodation has been processed. While we intend to grant all valid requests for medical and/or religious accommodations, in the event a request is not granted, the Company will provide adequate time for an Employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols,” it reads.
12 October 2021, 19:00 GMT
In early September, President Joe Biden announced sweeping new COVID-19 guidelines
that required staff at large companies to be vaccinated or face weekly testing.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who is a strong opponent of mandatory COVID-19 vaccines, issued an executive order
last week banning all organizations from enforcing vaccination in the state.
Abbott said in a tweet he shared that COVID-19 vaccines “should always remain voluntary & never forced.”
But American and Southwest Airlines have said they will abide by the federal order made by the president, considering they are large airlines that are federal contractors.
Executives at both carriers in recent days have tried to urge employees to apply for medical or religious exemptions to reassure job security under the mandate.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Southwest employees and customers rallied outside of Southwest Airlines’ headquarters in Dallas to protest against the vaccine mandate, the Dallas Morning News reported
An airline spokeswoman said the carrier took notice of the demonstration.
“Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported, and will continue to support, our employees’ right to express themselves, with open lines of communication to share issues and concerns,” she said.
Rumors circulated last week that employees had staged a massive “sickout” in protest of the new policy after more than 2,000 flight cancellations were declared
, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
The pilots’ union told members late Tuesday that the cancellations were due to a shortage of unavailable crews, and that there was nothing to indicate such cancellations will permanently come to a halt.
The Dallas-based airline denied the allegations, and blamed air traffic control issues and bad weather for weekend “operational challenges” that resulted in the cancellations.
The pilot’s union said
in early October that they were looking to file a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop Southwest from carrying forward the vaccine mandate.
The company clarified it's giving employees until November 24th to get fully vaccinated or apply for an exemption.