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Can You Be Placed on Unpaid Leave if You Are a Vaccine-Exempt Employee?

While it has now been established that an employer has the legal right to mandate its workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19, some employees are still exempt for certain reasons: 1) medical under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); or 2) religious under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This begs the question of what happens with those vaccine-exempt employees? Can a vaccine-exempt employee be placed on unpaid leave?

Is There a Reasonable Accommodation?

Whether or not a vaccine-exempt employee can continue to work at their place of employment depends upon whether their employer is able to provide them with a reasonable accommodation that can help to ensure their safety as well as the safety of other employees. But what is considered a reasonable accommodation? This depends on many different factors, such as the specific job duties of the individual, the industry in which they work, and whether or not there are any feasible alternatives that can be offered. While it may be difficult to accept, sometimes the only reasonable accommodation is unpaid leave. 

United Airlines Demonstrates How Facts Determine Reasonableness  

For instance, United Airlines recently reported that they would place all vaccine-exempt employees on unpaid leave. In this instance, these individuals, who are customer-facing, are exposed to individuals from all over the world each and every day. Therefore, the company has no other option that could be considered reasonable and that would allow them to carry out their job duties, except to place them on unpaid leave until the pandemic “meaningfully recedes.” For the airline’s other employees that are not as public-facing, such as baggage handlers, the airline has provided the reasonable accommodation of placing them on unpaid leave until the company has a means of testing the employees in-house. As for those employees of United who have more administrative roles, the airline is able to offer the reasonable accommodation of working remotely. 

While it can be difficult, United has done a good job of demonstrating just how each specific job can have an impact on what would be considered a reasonable accommodation for those who are unvaccinated. Each case is different and based upon its own specific set of facts. It is often in a company’s best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced employment law attorney to establish policies that adhere to all compliance issues. 

The IL Employment Law Attorneys at ST Legal Group Can Help

If you have been put on unpaid leave or if you are an employer dealing with how to adhere to these new issues concerning unvaccinated employees, it’s in your best interest to work with a qualified IL employment law attorney. The attorneys at ST Legal Group can help you to ensure that you are doing what is necessary in order to succeed. To learn more, or to schedule a consultation, contact us today!