After placing unvaxxed employees on a leave last year, United Airlines is now bringing them back by accepting religious exemptions.
In a memo to employees on Thursday, the carrier informed its workforce that workers who avoided vaccination by claiming a medical or religious exemption will be allowed back starting March 28. The company’s vice president of human relations, Kirk Limacher, said in the memo that United was taking the step because it expects coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths to continue to drop over the next few weeks.
“Of course, if another variant emerges or the COVID trends suddenly reverse course, we will reevaluate the appropriate safety protocols at that time,” Limacher said.
As it stands, last year, during the peak COVID wave, United became one of the most visible U.S. corporations to impose a vaccine requirement. The company said that about 97% of its 67,000 U.S. workers got the shots, and only about 200 were terminated. More than 2,000 workers claimed a medical or religious exemption from vaccination. They were not fired, but were placed on unpaid leave, and several sued the Chicago-based company.
But even with the new exemptions, a United spokeswoman said Thursday that the company still requires new employees to be vaccinated.