Southwest Airlines reverses decision, will not put unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave

In a reversal of its decision, Southwest Airlines will not put workers who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 on unpaid leave if they apply for an exemption based on either medical or religious reasons.

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Southwest spokesperson Brandy King said that employees must either give the company proof that they’ve received a COVID-19 vaccination or file an exemption by Nov. 24.

If an employee files an exemption request and the request has not been reviewed or approved by Dec. 8, they will be allowed to keep working, The Associated Press reported.

Originally the company had announced that employees who were not vaccinated against COVID-19 or had been granted an exemption would have been put on unpaid leave.

“While we intend to grant all valid requests for accommodations, in the event a request is not granted, the company will provide adequate time for an employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols,” King said, according to the AP.

“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 memo sent to employees, Fox Business reported.

Southwest is among the U.S. airlines that are under the rule that requires federal contractors to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8, the AP reported.

Southwest Airlines has 54,000 employees, according to Fox Business.

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