United Airlines to lay off nearly 600 workers who refused to get vaccinated

United Airlines will begin the process of laying off roughly 600 employees — less than 1 percent of its workforce — who refused to comply with the company's COVID-19 vaccine mandate, it announced Tuesday.

The Chicago-based airline said that 99 percent of its workforce provided proof of vaccination prior to a Monday deadline. United will move to fire those who did not seek an exemption or provide proof of vaccination, but the carrier will give them one more chance to comply with the mandate during the separation process.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart wrote in a memo to employees Tuesday. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The percentage of vaccinated United employees excludes the less than 3 percent of the company’s 67,000 employees who sought a religious or medical exemption. Six United employees filed a lawsuit against the airline last week over its policy to put exempt employees on unpaid leave.

United told reporters Tuesday that the company has seen an uptick in applicants after announcing the vaccine requirement from individuals who want to work in a safe environment. 

“Our rationale for requiring the vaccine for all United’s U.S.-based employees was simple — to keep our people safe — and the truth is this: everyone is safer when everyone is vaccinated, and vaccine requirements work,” the United executives wrote to employees Tuesday.

United is the only one of the top four U.S. airlines to fire employees who do not comply with a vaccine requirement. Delta Air Lines will enact a $200 monthly surcharge on unvaccinated employees, while American Airlines and Southwest Airlines are only encouraging employees to get the shot.