United Airlines has said that nearly 600 US-based employees faced termination after failing to comply with the carrier’s vaccination policy.
In early August, the company became the first US carrier to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all domestic employees, requiring proof of vaccination by Monday.
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The carrier said it would start on Tuesday the process of firing 593 employees who decided not to get vaccinated.
“This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” Chief Executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees in a memo.
The workers can save their jobs if they get vaccinated before their formal termination meetings, the company officials said.
About 2,000 United workers have requested an exemption on medical or religious grounds, the company said on Tuesday, the day after the vaccine mandate deadline took effect for about 67,000 US-based employees. The airline plans to assess those requests by October 15, the same day employees granted exemptions will face being put on unpaid leave.
Excluding those who have sought an exemption, United said more than 99 percent of US-based employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Last week, six United employees sued the carrier in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, alleging the mandate violates laws offering religious and disability accommodations in the workplace. The airline’s policy offers no alternative for mask-wearing, periodic testing, or social distancing, the workers said.
A company spokesperson said the airline plans to hire about 25,000 people over the next few years, and vaccination will be a condition of employment for all new hires.
United will also require students at its pilot training school to get vaccinated, the spokesperson said.
The company dismissed the notion that the vaccine requirement was deterring applicants for jobs at the air carrier.
United received 700 applications for about 400 job postings last month at a Denver career fair. Similarly, it has received more than 20,000 applications for about 2,000 open positions for flight attendants, the spokesperson said.