Despite the fast spread of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the U.S., Boeing on Friday told workers that it’s suspending a company vaccination requirement for all U.S.-based employees.
The company adopted a vaccine mandate in October to ensure compliance with the federal executive order that required all employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated.
The mandate faced fervent opposition from a vocal minority of Boeing workers, some of whom insisted they would rather lose their jobs than comply.
In an internal company announcement, Boeing told employees its decision to suspend the mandate “comes after a detailed review of a U.S. District Court ruling earlier this month that halts the enforcement of a federal executive order requiring vaccinations for federal contractors.”
The statement also cited “a recent Executive Branch directive not to enforce the order on those contractors and a number of state laws which limit an employer’s ability to impose mandatory vaccine requirements.”
Late Friday afternoon, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reinstated a separate Biden administration vaccine mandate that applies to businesses with at least 100 workers. The ruling lifted a November injunction that had blocked enforcement of the rule.
Following that news, Boeing spokesperson Jessica Kowal said the new policy of not mandating vaccines announced Friday morning remains the company position.
“We’ll continue to communicate with employees if there are any changes in future,” she said.
And in an indication that the mandate could be reimposed if the legal situation resolves to require it, Boeing said it “will continue to monitor and follow federal, state and local requirements, and notify impacted employees of any changes.”
In an interview after the announcement, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal, who is vaccinated, said he still wants “to encourage every one of our workforce to get vaccinated.”
Pointing to how critical vaccination is for hope of a global air travel recovery, Deal added that “the world, and the airline industry, will recover under vaccination.”
Boeing’s statement cited “over 92% of the company’s U.S.-based workforce having registered as being fully vaccinated or having received a religious or medical accommodation.”
That implies 8% of Boeing’s U.S. employees — about 10,000 workers — were under threat of possible termination under the mandate.
In an FAQ for employees, Boeing added that all employees are still required “to wear face coverings and physically distance (where possible) when indoors at Boeing sites in the U.S.”
Boeing said it will provide information on the additional requirements that may be necessary for unvaccinated employees in early 2022.
Dr. Laura Cain, Boeing chief medical officer, told employees she still wants “to strongly encourage our employees to get vaccinated or get a booster if they have not done so to help protect their teammates, families and communities.”
“According to the CDC, the vaccines are safe, effective and our best tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she said.