United Customer Service Agent at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport. (photo courtesy of United Airlines)
United Airlines has just revealed that it will permit unvaccinated employees to return to work in their customer-facing roles later this month.
The airline imposed a vaccine mandate on its entire workforce in October of last year, requiring that all staffers get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face termination. United’s Chief Executive Scott Kirby said in December that around 200 of the company’s 67,000 employees refused to comply with the requirement and were fired.
But, there are also roughly 2,200 employees who were granted “reasonable accommodation” status, either for health reasons or on religious grounds, and have since been put on temporary unpaid leave or reassigned to jobs where they aren’t interacting directly with the public.
United’s vice president of human resources, Kirk Limacher, wrote in a March 10 memo to employees that those workers will soon be allowed to return to their normal, customer-facing positions. “We plan to welcome back those employees who have been out on an approved (accommodation) to their normal positions starting March 28,” the memo read.
In explanation of the policy change, Limacher said that new COVID-19 case numbers have decreased by more than 90 percent since their peak in January and that the number of hospitalizations has also fallen by more than two-thirds. “We expect Covid case counts, hospitalizations and deaths to continue to decline over the next few weeks,” he wrote.
United likewise told a federal appeals court on Thursday that its decision to alter the policy is, “due to substantial changes in the scope and severity of the pandemic, as well as the guidance of public-health authorities.”
According to Reuters, the Chicago-based airline also requested that a federal appeals court dismiss an existing legal challenge that seeks to block United from enforcing its employee vaccination mandate. United told the court that the point is rendered moot.
In Thursday’s memo, Limacher went on to reveal that five United employees who’d received reasonable accommodation status have died. “All loss of life is tragic, but at United our vaccinated employees have been significantly less likely to lose their lives to Covid,” he wrote.