United CEO says COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for employees

United Airlines CEO says he wants to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all of its 60,000 employees and is urging other companies to follow suit as the law says employers CAN force workers to get shots

  • United CEO Scott Kirby says he’s in favor of making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for all airline employees 
  • He made the announcement during an employee town hall on Thursday 
  • Kirby said he believes it’s the ‘right thing to do’ for the airline as well as for other companies  
  • ‘I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines,’ he said 
  • Legally, private companies can require their employees to get vaccinated
  • Employment law experts however, say many are unlikely to do so because of the risks of legal and cultural backlash

United CEO Scott Kirby says he’s considering making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory among staff 

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby has announced he’s in favor of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy for all employees and says other companies should follow suit. 

Kirby on Thursday spoke during an employee town hall meeting where he informed staff he is strongly considering the move. 

‘The worst thing that I believe I will ever do in my career is the letters that I have written to the surviving family members of coworkers that we have lost to the coronavirus,’ he said, according to a transcript obtained by CNBC. 

‘And so, for me, because I have confidence in the safety of the vaccine – and I recognize it’s controversial – I think the right thing to do is for United Airlines, and for other companies, to require the vaccines and to make them mandatory.’ 

Legally, private US companies can require employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but are unlikely to do so because of the risks of legal and cultural backlash, experts have said. 

A United Airlines attendant is pictured during in-flight service amid the coronavirus pandemic , when both workers and passengers have been required to wear masks amid more stringent aircraft cleaning requirements 


US employers can legally require their workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

It’s likely, though, most will make the shot optional, employment lawyers say. 

Even though employers can mandate vaccinations, there are exceptions and variations depending on the case and jurisdiction – meaning imposing a mandatory policy can present a difficult and time-consuming legal challenge for employers.

And legal experts also say employers are likely to stay away from a mandate because in many cases they could be liable if an employee suffered an adverse reaction.     

Workers also have the right to object to mandatory vaccinations under anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which allows employees to be exempt if it goes against a ‘sincerely held religious belief’.

Personal or ethical objections or personal anti-vaccination positions are not covered by this law. 

Those with medical disabilities also can request an exemption under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. 

If using the ADA to request an exemption from an employer mandate, a worker is required to prove they have a medical condition that makes it unsafe to get a vaccine.  

Meanwhile, Kirby’s remarks are the first time a major US carrier has announced plans to make the shot obligatory for staff. 

Rival airlines American and Southwest have so far only strongly encouraged employees to get vaccinated.  

The latest poll from Pew Research indicates that 60 percent of Americans say they would definitely or probably get a coronavirus vaccine if it were available to them today.

That was up from 51 percent who said the same in September. However, about four out of 10 still say they definitely or probably would not get a vaccine.  

A United spokeswoman confirmed in a statement Friday that the company was ‘strongly considering’ making vaccines compulsory, though it isn’t a policy yet.

‘If others go along and are willing to start to mandate vaccines, you should probably expect United to be amongst the first wave of companies that do it,’ Kirby told employees. 

‘I don’t think United will get away with and can realistically be the only company that requires vaccines and makes them mandatory.

‘We need some others. We need some others to show leadership. Particularly in the healthcare industry,’ he added.  

United Airlines was the largest US operator of international flights before the pandemic thwarted global travel and effectively crippled the airline industry. 

By the end of 2020, United had more than 60,000 active employees in the US. It has since issued recall notices to 17,000 workers who were furloughed earlier in the year.  

As for vaccines, employees can potentially object to mandatory ones by requesting an exemption under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Companies are still in the early stages of navigating access and distribution of the virus vaccines, but inoculation is considered the key to safely resume operations at crowded warehouses, factory lines and on sales floors.

On Thursday, Southwest Airlines announced it would vaccinate its employees against COVID-19 for free once a vaccine has been made widely available in the United States, but is yet to disclose plans to make it mandatory. 

The airline said its employees were strongly encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

‘We have teams working to identify third parties who can provide vaccines to our employees as soon as they are able to do so – likely during later phases in the vaccine roll-out plan,’ Southwest said in a statement.

The vaccines are paid for by the federal government and the administrative fees will be covered for Southwest employees under its health plans, the company said.

United is among US airlines actively lobbying the new Biden administration to reopen borders for people who test negative for COVID-19 before travel or have been vaccinated. 

President Joe Biden has indicated he plans to maintain a ban on most travelers from Europe and Brazil and require a quarantine for all international air passengers upon US arrival, but moved swiftly on Thursday to address the COVID-19 pandemic with steps to expand testing and vaccinations and increase mask-wearing. 

A man receives the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a Connecticut hospital Friday. United Airlines’ CEO said such shots should be mandatory among workers.

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