Southwest Airlines Announces Employee Vaccination Mandate

Southwest Airlines has become the latest carrier to announce its employees will need to be vaccinated to keep working for the company by December 8th. The move comes as a result of actions from President Biden and his administration that require all government contractors to have a fully vaccinated workforce.

Southwest Airlines Announces Employee Vaccination Mandate
Southwest Airlines will require its employees to get vaccinated. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines requires vaccinations

On Monday, Southwest Airlines announced that it falls under the category of government contractors impacted by President Biden’s directive to have all employees be fully vaccinated to continue getting government contracts. As a result, all employees of Southwest must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by December 8th or else approved for a religious, medical, or disability accommodation to continue working for the airline.

Southwest Airlines did not share what percentage of its workforce is already vaccinated. However, following the mandate, that number is expected to rise.

Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO, stated the following on the mandate:

“Southwest Airlines must join our industry peers in complying with the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination directive. 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.”

Southwest Airlines Announces Employee Vaccination Mandate
Mr. Kelly continues to encourage employees to get fully vaccinated. Photo: Southwest Airlines

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A holdout announces a requirement

Southwest Airlines had previously held out on mandating vaccinations for its employees. The carrier had instead sought to highly incentivize and encourage people to get vaccinated instead of requiring it. This directly contrasted with what other airlines had put in place.

Incentives for the vaccination included offering workers extra pay. In addition, for those who fall ill with the virus, Southwest reduced its quarantine pay protections for unvaccinated employees. They will need to use their own sick time. This is similar to moves that other airlines have made in this space.

President Biden’s directive requires all government contractors to have a fully vaccinated workforce. Southwest Airlines does a fair bit of flying for the US government. These government contracts can be lucrative from a financial standpoint, and Southwest certainly does not want to close the door on any potential opportunities in the future.

Southwest Airlines Announces Employee Vaccination Mandate
Southwest’s employees have until December 8th to get fully vaccinated. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The state of vaccination mandates in the industry

United Airlines was the first major airline to announce a vaccination mandate for its employees. The carrier did so well before it became clear the US government would mandate them for contractors and before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to a vaccine. United built a buffer of a few months into its announcement. However, one thing that is abundantly clear is that United’s mandate has been working.

Southwest Airlines Announces Employee Vaccination Mandate
Southwest may face a crunch with unvaccinated employees getting vaccinated. Photo: Southwest Airlines

After United, Frontier and Hawaiian followed with mandates. However, other major US carriers, including Southwest, Delta, and American, did not announce vaccination mandates. Most remained with the policy of heavily encouraging vaccines. Some airlines added classes or training to convince unvaccinated employees to get the shot. Delta announced a $200 monthly surcharge for unvaccinated workers on the carrier’s health plan, but it has not yet decided on a mandate.

The directive from President Biden is the real push for these airlines to get their workers vaccinated. Since this announcement, American, Alaska, and JetBlue have come forward with their own requirements. Southwest is now joining that list.

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