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Employment Flyover: Airline Employee Vaccination Mandates Upheld... For Now

December 16, 2021

Recently, an appeals court denied an emergency request by airline workers to block their employer’s policy requiring all employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine unless granted a religious or medical exception. Employees receiving an exception were put on unpaid leave until the pandemic ends. So, what does this mean?

  • The employees had argued at a lower court that the airline “put its religious and disabled workers in an impossible position—take the COVID-19 vaccine, at the expense of their religious beliefs [or face indefinite] unpaid leave.” Acknowledging it faced “the difficult task of balancing individual liberties against a company’s ability to exercise its business judgment,” the lower court declined to block the airline’s policy before it could decide on the merits of the case.
  • The appeals court agreed with that decision and left the airline’s vaccine mandate in place. That decision was not unanimous, however, as one judge found it “difficult to imagine how a crisis of conscience, whether instigated by government or industry, could be remedied by an award of monetary damages.” For that judge, “[t]o hypothesize that the earthly reward of monetary damages could compensate for these profound challenges of faith is to misunderstand the entire nature of religious conviction at its most foundational level. And that is so whether the mandate comes from D.C. or the C-Suite.”
  • It remains to be seen whether the airline’s policy will ultimately be upheld on the merits, but these decisions have cleared the way for airline employee vaccination requirements to be implemented for now.