U.S. President Joe Biden last week announced that companies with over 100 employees must require COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing for their workers, but the latter might not be an option anymore.
Of late, several well-known companies are now forcing their workers to get the vaccine or end up without pay. A consequence for the unvaccinated that is becoming more critical.
Before Biden’s mandate on COVID-19 vaccination, United Airlines agreed that all their unvaccinated employees, even those who are exempted for religious or medical reasons, could be forced to an indefinite unpaid leave comes Oct. 2.
In a memo released on Sept. 8 from Kirk Limacher, vice president of HR, United, said that those who were refused medical or religious exemptions are given five more weeks to get the vaccine or else, face termination or unpaid leave. But it was also stated that even those who are granted exemption could still face the same consequences, such are those who often contact passengers (flight attendants, gate agents, and pilots) will now be asked to take unpaid leave.
The memo also stated that they won’t be permitted to go back to their jobs until the pandemic “meaningfully recedes.” Employees who are exempted who don’t deal much with passengers, like baggage handlers and mechanics, will also be on unpaid leave until the airline can establish new plans for weekly testing and mask mandates.
United Airlines is just one of the few companies that are forcing unvaccinated employees to give up their paychecks and be on unpaid leave. Canada’s WestJet Airlines also said that employees who have not received their vaccines may also face unpaid leave or termination if they won’t get the vaccine.
Meanwhile, in PeaceHealth Riverbend Hospital and University District in Eugene, Oregon, 120 nurses were placed on unpaid leave after refusing to get the vaccine, including those who are granted exemptions.
A consulting firm in New York called Alvarez & Marsal is also putting their unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave starting October 31 that may last for up to six months.
Experts said that it is not clear if these companies will change their policies after Biden’s announcement but, they are within the legal right to make such action.
“Employers may require all employees to be vaccinated, but with important limitations,” says Alison R. Kalinski, an associate in the Los Angeles office of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.
With that being said, Kalinski stated: “The employer should engage in the interactive process to determine how the employee can be reasonably accommodated to minimize the employee’s risk of exposure—and spread—of COVID-19 in the workplace.”
She also mentioned that employers should regard some accommodations like remote work, additional protective equipment, moving employee’s work station to a more isolated area, and unpaid leave.