US judge upholds United Airlines’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees – Community News

US judge upholds United Airlines’ COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees

Nov. 8 (Reuters) – A US federal judge ruled Monday that United Airlines Holdings Inc (UAL.O) can impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on its employees that only provides unpaid leave to employees exempt for medical or religious reasons.

U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman in Fort Worth, Texas, dismissed employee arguments that the airline improperly put them in an “impossible position” by forcing them to choose a vaccine or unpaid leave.

Pittman was critical of United Airlines’ approach to employees seeking religious exemptions, but said it was ultimately the company’s human resources policy and no employee was forced to accept a vaccine.

An employee’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

The ruling comes as U.S. employers prepare to comply with the Biden administration’s rules requiring companies with at least 100 employees to have their employees vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo regular testing. read more

Employer mandates, including waivers for religious and medical reasons, have generally been upheld by courts. United Airlines was the first major airline to impose a vaccination requirement, and more have since followed.

United issued about 2,000 exemptions. But employees in positions such as pilots, flight attendants and customer service representatives had to take unpaid leave until the pandemic was over.

United said in a statement it welcomed the ruling and would try to find “non-customer-oriented” positions for exempt employees. If they refuse, they will be placed on furlough, United said.

The plaintiffs alleged that United violated its legal obligations by not housing exempt employees, as most companies have done, by allowing them to continue to perform their roles while subjecting themselves to regular tests and wearing a mask. They also said they would lose seniority and other benefits if they were placed on leave.

The company said allowing unvaccinated workers into the workplace would undermine the safety of its flights, although Pittman noted that the company acknowledged there was almost no chance of COVID-19 outbreaks on its planes.

Pittman said he was “disturbed” by United’s seemingly ill-considered approach to his employees’ concerns about taking the vaccine.

“So United’s mandate reflects an apathy, if not antipathy, for many of its employees’ concerns and a lack of tolerance for those who express diversity of thought.”

Legal claims related to exemptions are usually handled through an administrative process with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before a lawsuit is filed.

Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Chris Reese and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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