Southwest reverses itself, scraps plan to put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave

Southwest Airlines will not place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave as they wait for their exemption requests to be reviewed, the company said.

Under President Joe Biden’s mandate for federal contractors, employees must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 by Dec. 8 unless they have received medical or religious exemptions.

Southwest had said employees who did not meet the requirement by the deadline would be placed on unpaid leave, but it recently changed course, CNBC reported. Airline officials told employees in a note Friday that they could continue to work and get paid but would have to follow masking and social distancing guidelines if their requests for exemptions were pending.

“This is a change from what was previously communicated,” said the airline’s senior vice president of operations and hospitality, Steve Goldberg, and its vice president and chief people officer, Julie Weber. “Initially, we communicated that these employees would be put on unpaid leave and that is no longer the case.”

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