United Airlines is defending its plan to put unvaccinated workers on medical or unpaid leave. The airline is facing a federal lawsuit from six employees who applied for a medical or religious exemption from the company's vaccine mandate. A federal judge in Texas has issued a temporary restraining order preventing United from enforcing the policy while the lawsuit is considered.
In a court filing, United claims that it is not feasible to allow unvaccinated employees to keep working because their vaccinated coworkers don't want to work with them.
"United cannot return the unvaccinated pilots to the cockpit because — aside from the various practical problems with testing and masking — we would face serious and widespread objections from the vaccinated pilots," said Kirk Limacher, vice president of Human Resources at United, in the court filing. "In fact, the objections among our vaccinated pilots are so strongly held that many of them would simply refuse to fly with the accommodated pilots. The distractions and dissension this would cause in the workforce represent an unacceptable safety risk."
In a separate filing, United said that vaccinated flight attendants have similar feelings about working with unvaccinated coworkers.
United said it is currently spending $1.4 million every two weeks to pay unvaccinated pilots who have requested exemptions and are not flying. Last month, the airline said that around 2,000 employees have requested a medical or religious exemption, which is less than 3% of its workforce.