A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked United Airlines from putting unvaccinated workers who requested exemptions from the company’s COVID-19 shot mandate on leave.
“The court is not currently ruling on the merits of the parties’ arguments on these points,” U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman wrote in his order. “Rather the court seeks simply to avoid the risk of irreparable harm to the parties and to maintain the status quo while the court holds an evidentiary hearing.”
United originally planned to put any workers who did not comply with the company’s shot order on leave. Even those who requested and were granted religious exceptions from the jab were going to be forced into medical or “indefinite unpaid leave.” Under Pittman’s new order, however, the company is not permitted to take any unvaccinated workers off of the airline’s payroll. The order expires Oct. 26.
United Airlines was one of the first airlines to force the COVID-19 shot on its employees starting in August. Nearly 600 of the company’s workers are at risk to be fired since they have yet to get the jab, in addition to the 2,000 employees who have filed requests for exemption.
“We know some of you will disagree with this decision to require the vaccine for all United employees,” United CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in a memo. “But, we have no greater responsibility to you and your colleagues than to ensure your safety when you’re at work, and the facts are crystal clear: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated.”
Thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and office staff applied for medical and religious exemptions but their requests were met with hostility. A handful of employees sued United for discriminating against people with legitimate objections to the shot and forcing them to abandon their convictions or source of income. United agreed to push back the deadline for getting the shot from Sept. 27 to Oct. 15 amid the ongoing litigation, but that still leaves workers in limbo.
President Joe Biden and his administration previously praised United’s decision and even used it to justify his newest vaccine mandate ordering certain private companies to interfere with their employees’ highly personal choices about the medical treatments administered to their bodies.
“Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this: United Airlines, Disney, Tysons Food, and even Fox News,” Biden said in a speech.