By David Shepardson and Sanjana Shivdas
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -United Airlines employees who receive religious exemptions from the company for COVID-19 vaccinations will be placed on temporary, unpaid personal leave from Oct. 2, the U.S. airline said in a Wednesday memo to staff.
The company said the employees will be allowed to return to their work location once new testing and safety procedures are in place.
The U.S. carrier is taking a tough line on employees who decline to get vaccinated and became the first U.S. carrier in early August to announce it would mandate vaccines for employees.
United said in the memo “more than half of our employees who were unvaccinated on the day (Aug. 6) we announced the requirement are now vaccinated.”
“Given the dire statistics listed above, we can no longer allow unvaccinated people back into the workplace until we better understand how they might interact with our customers and their vaccinated coworkers,” the airline said the memo.
For pilots and flight attendants and other customer-facing employees winning religious exemptions they will remain off work indefinitely.
“Once the pandemic meaningfully recedes, you will be welcomed back to the team on active status,” United said.
For some employees in non-customer facing roles, United will more quickly allow return to work but require unvaccinated employees to “undergo weekly COVID-19 testing, wear a mask at all times.”
United said for some employees an “official return to work date might be significantly later” than mid-October.
Employees whose requests for religious exemptions are denied must be vaccinated within five weeks or they will be fired, United said.
United said the restriction and requirements are similar for employees seeking medical exemptions but employees winning exemptions will be placed on temporary medical leave.
On Friday, American Airlines said it would not provide special leave starting next month to unvaccinated employees who have to quarantine due to COVID-19.
Last month, Delta Air Lines said employees will have to pay $200 more every month for their company-sponsored healthcare plan if they choose to not be vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Wednesday, WestJet Group in Canada said effective Oct. 30 employees will be required to be fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Aurora Ellis)