United Airline’s mandate that all domestic employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 went into effect in the United States on Tuesday.
United Airlines said nearly 600 U.S.-based employees have been laid off after failing to comply with the carrier’s vaccination policy.
In early August, the company became the first U.S. carrier to require COVID-19 vaccination for all its national employees, requiring proof of vaccination by Monday.
The carrier said it would begin the process of firing 593 employees who have decided not to be vaccinated on Tuesday.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision, but keeping our team safe has always been our top priority,” CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees in a memo.
Workers can save their jobs if they get vaccinated before their formal sacking meetings, company officials said.
About 2,000 United workers have requested an exemption for medical or religious reasons, the company said on Tuesday, the day after the vaccination mandate deadline came into effect for about 67,000 US-based employees. The airline plans to assess those claims by Oct. 15, the same day employees with exemptions will be put on unpaid leave.
Excluding those who requested an exemption, United said more than 99% of U.S.-based employees have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Six United employees last week sued the carrier in federal court in Fort Worth, Texas, alleging that the warrant violated laws providing religious accommodations and accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace. The airline’s policy offers no alternatives for wearing a mask, periodic testing or social distancing, the workers said.
A company spokesperson said the airline plans to hire around 25,000 people over the next few years and that vaccination will be a condition of employment for all new hires.
United will also require students at its pilot training school to be vaccinated, the spokesperson said.
The company rejected the idea that the vaccine requirement was a deterrent to applicants for jobs with the airline.
United received 700 applications for around 400 job openings last month at a job fair in Denver. Likewise, it has received more than 20,000 applications for around 2,000 vacancies for flight attendants, the spokesperson said.