Unvaccinated people could be forced to give up their paycheck.

Alissa Rose

President Joe Biden announced a rule on Sept. 9 that companies with more than 100 employees must require vaccinations or weekly tests for their workers. But for those who choose to remain unvaccinated, a test may not be a viable option in all cases. Recently, the consequences have started to build for unvaccinated people, and a few prominent companies are now forcing them out without pay.

Before Biden's announnited Airlines decided that unvaccinated employees, even those granted exemptions for religious or medical reasons, could be put on indefinite unpaid leave starting Oct. 2.

In a Sept. 8 memo from Kirk Limacher, vice president of HR, United said that those denied medical or religious exemptions would have five more weeks to get vaccinated or face termination or unpaid leave. But it was also revealed that even those granted exemptions could face the same consequences, such as those who were given exemptions and often contact passengers—like flight attendants, gate agents, and pilots—will now have to take unpaid leave.

And they won't be allowed back on the job until the pandemic "meaningfully recedes," as stated in the memo. Exempt employees who rarely deal with passengers, like baggage handlers and mechanics, will also be put on unpaid leave until the airline can institute new plans for weekly testing and mask mandates.

United isn't the only company forcing unvaccinated employees to give up their paychecks and go on unpaid leave. Canada's WestJet Airlines also says unvaccinated employees may face unpaid leave or termination due to not getting the COVID vaccine.

Outside of airlines, nearly 120 nurses from PeaceHealth Riverbend Hospital and University District in Eugene, Oregon, were put on unpaid leave for refusing to get vaccinated, including those granted exemptions. Alvarez & Marsal, a consulting firm based in New York, is also placing unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave beginning Oct. 31 for up to six months.

According to experts, it's unclear if any of these companies will change their policies since Biden's announcement, but legally, they are within their right to take such action. "Employers may require all employees to be vaccinated, but with important limitations," says Alison R. Kalinski, an associate in the Los Angeles office of Liebert Cassidy Whitmore.

In these cases, Kalinski says, "the employer should engage in the interactive process to determine how the employee can be reasonably accommodated to minimize the employee's risk of exposure—and spread—of COVID-19 in the workplace." She adds that employers should consider some accommodations as "remote work, additional personal protective equipment, moving the employee's workspace to be more isolated, and unpaid leave.



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