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United Airlines' COVID Vaccine Policy Has Other Companies Considering

DENVER (CBS4)- In the end, United Airlines' new policy on vaccines isn't a requirement for current workers, but it feels close. The company will be rewarding flight attendants who get shots with extra vacation days. Those who don't won't be allowed to travel to countries that require vaccines and if they're assigned to an international flight, can be removed from the schedule without compensation. That's in addition to a vaccination requirement for new hires.

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It's nothing new to require vaccines.

"Employers have broad discretion to implement a vaccination policy up to mandating it completely across the board, subject to exemptions for medical reasons, for religious reasons or based on a union contract," said employment law specialist, Sterling LeBoeuf, a partner with the firm of Davis Graham & Stubbs. "I think companies with a lot of public-facing employees know that for a lot of the members of the public, they're going to feel more comfortable knowing that the staff at the establishment have been vaccinated... And that definitely translates into a lot of dollars and cents for a lot of businesses."

The requirement of vaccination actually has a long history in the United States.

"Vaccine requirements have been around forever," said Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the pro-vaccine, Immunize Colorado. "George Washington required his troops to get vaccinated for smallpox."

There were objections to the idea at the time and even fears among some that using the related cox pox virus for vaccination would lead to cows growing out of recipients' skin.

Current policy in Colorado and many other states call for health care workers to get the flu vaccine. Teachers and pre-school teachers in many places have the same requirements. It is not surprising to Wasserman that United would want to advocate for vaccines.

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"The CDC is always saying we're just a plane ride away from an infectious disease."

In the modern world, air travel is an efficient way of rapid spread of a virus.

"Global travel has always been a source of bringing a virus from one place to another."

United may have altruistic beliefs she notes, but there's good business too.

"I imagine a big airline that suffered a lot of losses during the pandemic wants to bring back their business model where everyone wants to fly and everyone wants to fly in a safe and comfortable environment."

LeBoeuf says his firm, which typically represents companies, is getting a lot of requests.

"Employers are being really thoughtful about this because in one sense it's a personal medical decision for each worker. In another sense, it's a decision that effects other employees in the workplace and its customers."

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He does not give much of a chance to lawsuits by workers who don't feel they should have to get vaccinated.

"You probably don't have much recourse at all."

Businesses may have good reason, but it's all part of the mix, says Wasserman, "It's a tool around many different tools that need to be used to make sure that people are fully vaccinated and we can get to that herd immunity."

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