Dallas-based Southwest Airlines (LUV) has announced on October 4, 2021, that it is now requiring all of its 56,000 employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if they wish to continue working for the airline. 

Southwest made the announcement through a staff memo and gave employees a deadline of December 8, 2021, to provide proof of vaccination, otherwise they risk losing their positions in the company. The airline said that employees may seek religious, disability or medical accommodations exemptions.

Southwest, along with other major American airlines, had to comply with new federal rules as the US government announced in September 2021 that staff of federal contractors must be vaccinated, unless they are granted a religious or medical exemption.

US President Biden said in September 2021 that private companies with 100 or more employees would be required to make sure that their employees were vaccinated or implement weekly testing programs. And while all US airlines fall into that category, many also are government contractors who must meet the December 8, 2021 vaccination deadline. 

Southwest and other major US airlines are considered a federal contractor because it flies government employees, cargo transport, and offer other services such as repatriation flights. 

“Southwest Airlines (LUV) is a federal contractor and we have no viable choice but to comply with the U.S. government mandate for employees to be vaccinated, and — like other airlines — we’re taking steps to comply,” Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest told staff.

In September 2021, prior to the new federal guidelines, Southwest introduced an incentive program to reward staff who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

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