United Airlines reports that more than 97 percent of its U.S.-based employees have been completely vaccinated against COVID-19, with less than a week until a deadline to obtain the vaccinations or be fired.
According to the airline, the revised figure excludes a “small percentage” of employees who are seeking a medical or religious exemption from vaccination. “Vaccination requirements work,” United stated in an employee memo.
Six United employees filed a class-action lawsuit this week, alleging that the airline is discriminating against employees who receive exemptions from the vaccine mandate by putting them on unpaid leave.
“United’s actions have left Plaintiffs with the untenable decision of either taking the COVID-19 vaccination at the price of their religious beliefs and health or losing their livelihoods,” the employees’ lawyers write in their case, which was filed in federal district court in Fort Worth, Texas.
Four of the six employees said they sought religious exemptions because they believed the vaccinations were created using aborted fetal tissue; one said she is allergic to eggs and penicillin, and another said he had multiple sclerosis and his specialist advised him not to get vaccinated.
According to the lawsuit, all were given exemptions but were told they would be placed on unpaid leave. Leslie Scott, a spokesperson for United Airlines, said the company was “reviewing this complaint in greater detail, but at this moment we believe it is without substance.” Last month, the airline reported that up to 90% of pilots and nearly 80% of flight attendants had been vaccinated, but it did not provide a figure for all U.S. personnel at the time.
United has stated that it will initiate termination proceedings against employees who are unvaccinated and have not secured an exemption as early as next Tuesday.
The airline is among a tiny group of corporations that said they will mandate vaccinations even before President Joe Biden issued an executive order requiring employers with more than 100 employees to require vaccines or weekly testing for the virus on September 9.
United set a deadline of September 27 – next Monday – for its 67,000 US-based employees to be vaccinated or face termination. Employees who apply for an exemption but are denied may be granted more time.
They will have five weeks to get vaccinated following their denial. United, based in Chicago, declined to provide a specific figure for how many employees requested an exception and how many requests were accepted.
Employees who are granted an exemption will be placed on leave starting Oct. 2. Some may be able to return provided they wear masks and are checked on a weekly basis, though the date of their return is uncertain.