Southwest Airlines dropped a plan to put unvaccinated workers with pending exemptions on unpaid leave after a December 8 deadline following protests by their employees.
“The employee will continue to work, while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position, until the accommodation has been processed,” according to an internal note obtained by CNBC written by Southwest’s Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality Steve Goldberg and Vice President and Chief People Officer Julie Weber.
Last week, Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights in what reportedly was an employee “sick out,” although the company blamed the weather for the cancelations. Following that, Southwest Airlines employees were captured on video protesting the vaccination requirement outside of the airlines’ Texas headquarters.
“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,” the company wrote in a memo to employees.
The company is giving employees until November 24 to finish their vaccinations or apply for a medical or religious exemptions. While these exemptions are pending, employees will continue being paid, and those who are rejected will continue working “as we coordinate with them on meeting the requirements (vaccine or valid accommodation),” CNBC reported.
“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,” an airline spokeswoman said.
As a federal contractor, Southwest Airlines is subject to the Biden Administration’s deadline for all employees to be vaccinated. However, the company’s leadership has encouraged their workers to seek exemptions for sincerely held religious beliefs or medical reasons that prevent them from getting vaccinated.
Southwest’s Goldberg and Weber reportedly told staff to reapply for exemptions if the staff member “has new information or circumstances it would like the Company to consider.”