Southwest Airlines Drops Plan to Place Unvaccinated Employees on Leave


As public and private employees around the country grapple with employers and state bodies over newly imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Southwest Airlines has dropped a plan to place unvaccinated employees on leave.

This comes after rumors of a mass sick-out was the real cause behind a high volume of canceled Southwest flights earlier this month. The airline attributed the delays and cancelations to the weather.

As federal contractors, all airline employees are required to be vaccinated by December 8, and Southwest had planned to place employees who had applied for but not yet received religious or medical exemptions from the inoculation on paid leave.

CNBC reported that “Southwest’s senior vice president operations and hospitality, Steve Goldberg, and Julie Weber, vice president and chief people officer, wrote to staff on Friday that if employees’ requests for an exemption haven’t been approved by Dec. 8, they could continue to work while following mask and distancing guidelines until the request has been reviewed.”

Southwest employees have until November 24 to receive both shots of the COVID-19 vaccine or apply for exemptions. They will remain as paid employees as their exemption applications are reviewed.

“This is a change from what was previously communicated. Initially, we communicated that these Employees would be put on unpaid leave and that is no longer the case,” executives wrote to employees, in a note reviewed by CNBC.

“Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported, and will continue to support, our employees’ right to express themselves, with open lines of communication to share issues and concerns,” a Southwest spokesperson told CNBC.

New hires will still be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

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