United Airlines Has Sort Of Scrapped Its Vaccine Mandate

United will welcome more than 2,000 unvaccinated employees back to work but says new hires still need the Covid-19 shot.

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A photo of a United Airlines plane flying over the ocean.
Unvaccinated United Airlines workers can take to the skies once more.
Photo: United Airlines

United Airlines was one of the first major U.S. carriers to implement a Covid-19 vaccine mandate for its staff last summer. After being in force for less than seven months, the airline is now rolling back the measures for all its staff – except new hires.

America’s second largest airlines announced in August last year that it would require its staff to get the Covid-19 shot if they wanted to keep their jobs. It was a great move from United, as getting the double shot and a booster is our best route out of the pandemic. But a lot has changed since the mandate was first announced.

In August, new daily Covid-19 infection in the U.S. peaked at 492, according to data tracker Our World In Data. In the ensuing months, this has begun trailing off and now sits at just 105 as of March 13.

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In the months following the implementation of the vaccine mandate, the airline’s staff “overwhelmingly complied with the requirement,” according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).

A photo of the interior of a United Airlines plane.
Please stow all vaccine mandates safely in the overhead lockers.
Photo: United Airlines
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However, there was backlash among some United employees. The WSJ reported that 200 employees were laid off for refusing to get the Covid-19 shot.

On top of this, 2,200 United employees argued that they were unable to receive the Covid-19 shot due to medical or religious reasons. For these people, United offered unpaid leave or encouraged them to apply for non-customer-facing positions.

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With cases falling across the U.S., the airline is preparing to roll back its vaccine mandate. This will see the 2,200 employees placed on leave return to their customer-facing roles.

In a statement shared by United Airlines, United’s vice president for human resources Kirk Limacher told employees on Thursday that the mandate would be lifting.

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Limacher said, “We expect Covid case counts, hospitalizations and deaths to continue to decline nationally over the next few weeks, and, accordingly, we plan to welcome back those employees.”

According to United Airlines, employees who were fired as a result of the vaccine mandate will not be offered their jobs back.

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United will begin relaxing the vaccine mandate on March 28th. However, the airline says it will consider community transmission and case rates for Covid-19 before permitting unvaccinated employees back to work.

Despite cutting the mandate for existing employees, United isn’t scrapping the rule completely. In fact, the WSJ reported that new employees at the airline will still be required to be vaccinated against Covid-19 if they want to work at United.