Judge blocks United from placing unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave

A federal judge in Texas has blocked United Airlines from placing employees who have applied for an exemption to the carrier’s Covid-19 mandate on unpaid leave until at least Oct. 26. 

In the temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman said that the stay is necessary while until he deliberates over a request for a preliminary injunction filed by six United employees seeking to prevent the carrier from implementing unpaid leaves.

United was the first U.S. carrier to implement a vaccine mandate for employees. It says nearly 97% of its employees are now vaccinated. Three percent applied for an exemption on either religious or health-related grounds. 

United spokeswoman Leslie Scott said the ruling means the status quo remains for the carrier. 

“Vaccine requirements work, and nearly all of United’s U.S. employees have chosen to get a shot,” she said. “For a number of our employees who were approved for an accommodation, we’re working to put options in place that reduce the risk to their health and safety, including new testing regimens, temporary job reassignments and masking protocols.”

In a Sept. 24 agreement with the plaintiffs, United temporarily agreed not to place employees on leave due to the vaccine mandate. However, the agreement is set to expire before Pittman expects to rule on the preliminary injunction request.

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