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Southwest scraps plans to place unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave

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Southwest Airlines has reportedly scrapped a plan to place unvaccinated employees who have applied for — but have not yet received — religious or medical exemptions on COVID-19 vaccines on unpaid leave.

All federal contractors — including Southwest Airlines — are required to have employees vaccinated by Dec. 8 unless they are exempt for medical or religious reasons.

What are the details?

According to a Tuesday CNBC report, Southwest Airlines' senior vice president of operations and hospitality Steve Goldberg and vice president and chief people officer Julie Weber on Friday told staff that if "employees' requests for an exemption haven't been approved by Dec. 8, they could continue to work while following mask and distancing guidelines until the request has been reviewed."

The company, according to the report, is allowing its employees until Nov. 24 to finish their vaccination series or apply for an exemption. The company will continue paying the employees while reviewing their requests, and 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," the two wrote in a memo obtained by CNBC.

According to an email obtained by Fox Business, "The employee will continue to work, while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position, until the accommodation has been processed."

What about the policy change?

Southwest, according to the outlet, confirmed the policy change.

New hires will be required to show proof of vaccination prior to beginning work for the airline, the outlet added.

If requested exemptions are not granted, Southwest told employees that it will "provide adequate time for an employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols."

A spokesperson for the airline told CNBC, “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."

In an early October statement, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said, "I encourage all Southwest Employees to meet the federal directive, as quickly as possible, since we value every individual and want to ensure job security for all."

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