Report: Southwest Airlines scraps plan to put unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave

National News

Southwest Airlines file photo (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

(KXAN/CNBC) — Southwest Airlines will no longer put unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave while their exemption requests are under review, CNBC reported Tuesday.

According to the report, Southwest Airlines changed its plans before a federal Dec. 8 vaccine mandate deadline. Southwest is a federal contractor and is subject to the Biden administration’s requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Steve Goldberg, a senior vice president with Southwest, and Julie Weber, another Southwest vice president, wrote in a note to staff members that if requests are still under review after the Dec. 8 deadline, they can still work “while following mask and distancing guidelines until the request has been reviewed.”

Both executives told staff that if employees had exemption requests declined, they could reapply if there was “new information or circumstances it would like the Company to consider.” Southwest requires all new hires to be vaccinated.

Hundreds of Southwest employees and others protested the mandate outside the airline’s Dallas headquarters.

“Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine,” an airline spokesperson told CNBC. “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.”

American, United and Delta airlines are all federal contractors, too. Delta hasn’t required vaccinations yet, but reported last week that 90% of its staff has been vaccinated.

United Airlines implemented its own vaccine mandate a month before the feds did, and it tried to put unvaccinated workers on unpaid leave. A federal judge has temporarily blocked that. United reports more than 96% of its staff is vaccinated.

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