United Airlines, citing a steep decline in Covid-19 cases, told staff Thursday that it will allow unvaccinated workers to return to their jobs starting March 28, a shift from the company that had one of the country’s strictest inoculation mandates.
Last August, United said it would require U.S. employees to be vaccinated against Covid or face termination. More than 96% of United’s roughly 67,000 U.S. workers were vaccinated, the company said.
In January, CEO Scott Kirby said the company didn’t have any Covid deaths among unvaccinated workers over the past eight weeks, despite a surge in cases of the omicron variant, which has since subsided.
United had said the roughly 2,200 workers who received exemptions on medical or religious grounds would go on unpaid leave or be moved to non-customer facing roles. For example, unvaccinated flight attendants couldn’t work their regular jobs. Roughly 200 employees were fired for not being vaccinated or having an accommodation.
A drop in new Covid cases, hospitalizations and loosening of masking requirements in many cities “suggest that the pandemic is beginning to meaningfully recede,” Kirk Limacher, vice president of human resources said in a staff note. “As a result, we’re confident we can safely begin the process” of returning staff with exemptions back to their jobs.
“Of course, if another variant emerges or the COVID trends suddenly reverse course, we will reevaluate the appropriate safety protocols at that time,” Limacher said.
The Wall Street Journal reported late Wednesday that the company would change its policy.