CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Southwest Airlines has dropped a plan to put unvaccinated staff on unpaid leave if they haven’t received religious or medical exemption starting in December.

Southwest issued a statement to NewsNation confirming that if an exemption request had not been approved by the Dec. 8 deadline, employees could continue to work while following COVID-19 guidelines.

Get daily news, weather, breaking news, and alerts straight to your inbox! Sign up for the abc27 newsletters here

If an accommodation has not been reviewed or approved by December 8, the Employee will continue to work, while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position, until the accommodation has been processed. While we intend to grant all valid requests for medical and/or religious accommodations, in the event a request is not granted, the Company will provide adequate time for an Employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols.


Southwest had announced earlier this month that its employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 to keep their jobs.

Rumors circulated last week that employees had staged a massive “sickout” in protest of the new policy after thousands of flights were delayed or canceled by the airline, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Southwest and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association disputed those rumors.

The Dallas-based airline blamed air traffic control issues and bad weather for weekend “operational challenges” that resulted in the cancellations.

The pilot’s union said it would file a temporary restraining order to stop Southwest from instituting the vaccine mandate.

Southwest had remained silent on the vaccination requirements even after President Joe Biden announced his vaccine mandate order for federal contractors and large employers. United Airlines was the first major U.S. carrier to announce a vaccination requirement in August.

There is no current timeline for when, or if, the unpaid leave policy will be put into place.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.