Recently, Southwest Airlines startled the nation by dropping a plan to place unvaccinated workers with pending vaccine exemptions on unpaid leave from December 8 onwards. The company’s decision emerges after major backlash from employees.
Southwest Airlines announced that employees will continue working “while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position” as they wait for their accommodation to be processed, according to an internal memo acquired by CNBC.
Last week, Southwest Airlines made national headlines after cancelling multiple hundreds of flights. The mass cancellations were widely rumored to be attributed to an employee “sick out,” though the company attempted to blame purported weather issues for the issue.
Shortly after the mass cancellations, numerous Southwest employees were videotaped protesting the vaccine mandates outside of the company’s Texas-based headquarters.
WATCH: Many #Southwest Airlines employees gather in front of the company’s headquarters in Dallas to protest the company’s vaccine mandate.
— Election Wizard (@ElectionWiz) October 18, 2021
Southwest also indicated its change of plans to employees, adding that the new approach to the vaccine mandates represents “a change” from prior communications.
“Initially, we communicated that [unvaccinated employees] would be put on unpaid leave,” the company stated, adding “that is no longer the case.”
Southwest is allowing employees up until November 24 to either apply for religious or medical exemptions, or to finish their vaccine regimen. While the exemptions remain pending, employees will continue to receive pay.
Moreover, for employees whose exemptions are rejected, they will have the opportunity to continue working for the company as it “[coordinates] with them on meeting the requirements” regarding either valid accommodation or vaccination, according to CNBC.
A spokeswoman for Southwest also weighed in, noting that the company has acknowledged “various viewpoints regarding [the vaccine],” as well as “[supported] employees’ right to express themselves.”
The spokeswoman added that the airline has promoted “open lines of communication” designed “to share issues and concerns.”
Southwest Airlines adhered to the vaccine mandate due to serving as a federal contractor, which means that the company is subjected to Biden’s deadline for all federal employees to become fully vaccinated.
Nonetheless, Southwest’s management has encouraged various employees to pursue exemptions for varied medical reasons or genuine religious beliefs that would legitimately preclude them from mandatory vaccinations.
For instance, employees may have the chance to reapply for vaccine exemptions if they happen to have “new information or circumstances” that they would like for Southwest to take into consideration.