Southwest Airlines has announced that it is abandoning a plan to put all unvaccinated staffers on unpaid leave starting on the deadline for the federal mandate on December 8.

CNBC obtained a note to employees from Southwest’s senior vice president of operations and hospitality Steve Goldberg and Julie Weber, vice president, and chief people officer, assuring them that if their requests for an exemption have not been approved by December 8, they could continue to work while following mask and distancing guidelines until their request is reviewed.


Southwest staffers have until November 24 to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit an exemption request. Southwest is now saying that employees will continue to be paid while their requests are being reviewed and that it will allow those who are rejected to continue working “as we coordinate with them on meeting the requirements (vaccine or valid accommodation).”

“This is a change from what was previously communicated. Initially, we communicated that these Employees would be put on unpaid leave, and that is no longer the case,” Goldberg and Weber wrote.

Southwest Airlines has since confirmed this policy change. This came after hundreds of Southwest employees launched a protest against the vaccine mandate outside the company headquarters in Dallas, Texas.

“Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported and will continue to support our employees’ right to express themselves, with open lines of communication to share issues and concerns,” an airline spokeswoman said at the time.



Southwest’s Goldberg and Weber have assured staffers that if their request for exemption is denied, they can reapply if the staff member “has new information or circumstances it would like the Company to consider.” A Southwest spokesperson added that any new hires at the airline must be vaccinated, however.

Meanwhile, American’s CEO Doug Parker met with staffers last week to discuss that airline’s vaccine mandate. The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents American’s mainline cabin crews, sent out a note to employees yesterday saying that American Airlines management “indicated that, unlike the approach taken by United, they were exploring accommodations that would allow employees to continue to work.”

“They failed to offer any specifics as to what such accommodations might look like at that time,” the union continued.

After launching a vaccine mandate back in August, United Airlines told employees that even staffers who were able to obtain exemptions would be placed on unpaid leave. A judge has since temporarily blocked that from happening after employees filed a lawsuit.

This piece was written by James Samson on October 19, 2021. It originally appeared in and is used by permission.

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