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United Airlines says workers without COVID-19 vaccine will be put on unpaid leave

United Airlines says workers without COVID-19 vaccine will be put on unpaid leave
A United Airlines Boeing 787 lands at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Ill. The carrier said in a memo that pilots, flight attendants and others with vaccine exemptions who interact with large groups will be able to return to work once the pandemic "meaningfully recedes." File Photo by Brian Kersey/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Ahead of the carrier's deadline this month for employees to be fully vaccinated, United Airlines said Wednesday that workers who have an exemption from the policy will be placed on temporary unpaid leave.

In a memo to the airline's 67,000 employees, United Human Resources Vice President Kirk Limacher said exempted employees will be placed on leave starting Oct. 2 while the company institutes "specific safety measures for unvaccinated employees."

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The carrier said pilots, flight attendants and others with exemptions who routinely interact with large groups of people will be able to return once the pandemic "meaningfully recedes."

Exempted employees who work as technicians, dispatchers and others in support roles that require few interactions with customers will be required to undergo weekly testing and wear masks at all times, including outdoors.

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If their request for exemption is denied, United said workers have until Sept. 27 to receive their first vaccine dose and will be terminated if they're not fully vaccinated within five weeks of receiving their denial.

"Given the large number of people who work at and travel through our operation daily, we need to do everything we can to ensure their safety," Limacher said. "As we said when we introduced our vaccination policy, everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated."

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United Airlines became the first major airline to institute a vaccine mandate last month and was followed by Hawaiian Airlines. In late August, Air Canada, Canada's largest airline, announced that all employees have until Oct. 30 to be fully vaccinated.

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Since United unveiled its mandate, more than half of the unvaccinated employees in early August have since been inoculated. The carrier said "a large majority" of employees have already uploaded their vaccination records or promised to get their first shot before the deadline.

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