United Airlines is preparing to terminate hundreds of employees who reportedly declined to get the COVID-19 vaccine. The decision comes amid tension in the US over the right of employers to mandate "no jab, no job" policies.
The airline company set 27 September as the target date for the full immunisation of staff. However, a total of 232 employees purportedly failed to meet the requirement. Now that the deadline has lapsed, the employees in question will be undergoing a proper termination process, according to United CEO Scott Kirby, who spoke to CBS This Morning.
"We believe in safety. It's the right thing to do," Kirby said. "[We] know that not everyone will agree but we're doing it from the principle of just doing the right thing for safety."
Despite initial pushback from about 2,000 employees – who cited religious or medical reasons for requesting an exemption from the rule – the majority of United's 67,000 employees have now been inoculated. A total of 99.7%, to be exact.
Even before other US carriers, such as Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, were caught up in the confusion over which government orders to follow, United had already gathered enough support from staff to yield a high vaccination rate as early as August.
But hundreds of employees who challenged United's mandate on immunisation were faced with the option of getting vaccinated and staying on, or risking termination.
"I tried to be empathetic, and I do understand. There's a lot of people who have a different view on this. I tried not to argue with them about it. We're not going to win the arguments on this with people," Kirby said.
Earlier this week, a federal judge in Texas prevented United from its plans to place employees – who had been requesting an exemption – on leave, even if their reasons for the exemption were valid. The company's plans would essentially take the workers off the payroll.
From the point of view of United, employees who cite medical reasons for the exemption would only have to follow the terms of their contract. These terms would then determine whether the employees would receive part of their pay during their absence.
On the other hand, employees who provide religious reasons for the exemption would purportedly be placed on unpaid leave for an indefinite period, according to United.
"The court is not currently ruling on the merits of the parties' arguments on these points," said US Judge Mark Pittman. "Rather, the court seeks simply to avoid the risk of irreparable harm to the parties and to maintain the status quo while the court holds an evidentiary hearing."