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American Airlines Ends Special Sick Leave for Unvaccinated Workers

Citing FDA approval of a vaccine, the carrier says it will continue to offer pandemic leave to fully vaccinated employees

September 7, 2021

American Airlines has announced it will end company-provided COVID-19 sick leave for unvaccinated employees beginning Oct. 1. In a memo to employees, the carrier said its “pandemic leave will only be offered to team members who are fully vaccinated and who provide their vaccination card.”

The airline cited the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for the change in policy. “We have heard from many team members that the full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the Food and Drug Administration gives them additional peace of mind when they were previously hesitant to get vaccinated,” according to the memo.

Unvaccinated employees who become infected or otherwise have to miss work due to COVID-19 will have to use their earned sick time or medical leave.

The policy represents a shift for the airline on the question of mandating employee vaccination. While still not requiring workers to have the shots, the move signals a more direct incentive to “encourage as many of our team members as possible to get vaccinated,” and to submit their vaccine card by Oct. 1.

By providing proof of vaccine before the deadline, the airline said it will reward “US-based team members who submit their vaccination card during this new window an extra day of vacation pay in 2021.”

The availability of an FDA-approved vaccine has prompted other airlines to take action to get more of their employees inoculated against the virus which has devastated the travel industry for the better part of two years.

Even while all the vaccines were being still being distributed under the FDA’s emergency use authorization, United Airlines had begun requiring virtually all of its 67,000 US employees to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 by no later than Oct. 25, or risk termination.

Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines also announced mandatory employee vaccination policies, with regular negative coronavirus test results the only alternative for those who cannot or will not get the vaccine.

In a move similar to American’s, Alaska Airlines announced that employees who have not been vaccinated will no longer receive quarantine pay for absences due to COVID-19 exposure or infection.

Delta Air Lines, which earlier had resisted requiring employees to get a vaccine that had yet to receive full government approval, is taking a different tack. Starting in November, the carrier says that due to “the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company,” it will place a $200 monthly surcharge on unvaccinated employees who are part of Delta’s account-based health care plan.

United, Delta and Alaska are all now requiring new hires to show proof of vaccination before starting work.,,,