In corporate board rooms around the globe, the Covid-19 vaccination—and whether to mandate it for employees—is on the agenda. After all, businesses have an ethical and legal duty to keep their staff and customers safe.
Because vaccine requirements affect business aircraft crewmembers, my team has received a number of HR-related questions in this area. In response, we crafted the following FAQs for U.S.-based companies. Hopefully, our research will help flight department leaders to understand their options and what others are doing to re-establish their travel routines.
Can my employer ask me whether I’ve been vaccinated?
Yes. Employers may request proof of vaccination, per the recent guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Interestingly, Etihad was the world’s first airline to confirm that 100 percent of its crew has been vaccinated.
Can my employer mandate the vaccine for employees?
Yes. Employers can require employees to get vaccinated. That is if they can explain why it’s a job requirement based on the position or industry.
Keep in mind that employers must make reasonable accommodations based on medical disabilities or religious reasons. Just because the U.S. EEOC has indicated private employers may require vaccinations does not necessarily mean employers should require them. There are benefits of allowing it to be an option.
In January, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby was strongly considering mandating the vaccine for its 60,000 employees. “For companies like United, the vaccine decision will be a test of values,” said Johnny Taylor Jr., the president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management. “You can’t, on the one hand, say safety is our number one priority and then on the other opt not to take an action that is known to reduce that risk,” he said.
Are flight departments requiring the vaccine?
Not right now. Eight out of 10 aviation directors we spoke with are not requiring or mandating vaccinations to fly. Most are taking a “wait and see” approach. And their companies are leaving the decision up to their employees.
“We have not made vaccination a requirement for flight crews,” said an aviation director at a Fortune 100 department. “Everyone is aware that it may be required for international destinations and, to this point, all but one of our pilots have at least had their first vaccination.”
And, comparatively, this response, from an aviation director with a major manufacturer: “Yes for flights, but no for hangar or office workers. However, non-essential workers may not come to the office without manager approval. Hangar protocols remain in place for everyone.”
How should we talk about vaccinations to our pilots, flight attendants, and maintenance teams?
Education and encouragement. “Our position is a strong recommendation to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” according to an aviation director for a media company. “Flight crews will be required to wait the FAA-mandated 48 hours [after vaccination] before flying.”
“Vaccination is a crucial step in the fight against this pandemic,“ said Dr. Paulo Alves, medical director at MedAire. “Everyone eligible should receive the vaccine. Right now, the important thing to do is to motivate people to get their vaccination.”
When will flight departments do away with crew pairings?
Post-vaccination. Only one aviation director I spoke with has already disbanded the crew pairings that were assigned as a result of the pandemic.
Most are waiting. “We'll fly vaccinated people together ASAP,” explained an aviation director from a media company. Another aviation director indicated that once the company lifts the “work at home” requirement, his team will most likely follow suit and discontinue crew pairing.
Several companies are developing new protocols to implement once all crew and passengers are vaccinated.
Is the Covid-19 vaccine required for international travel?
Not yet, though international destinations are developing guidelines to make it easier for the fully vaccinated to travel. Many countries are already opening their borders to vaccinated travelers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends delaying international travel until you are fully vaccinated. Once vaccinated, the CDC has recommendations for traveling safely, and it suggests getting tested three to five days after travel.
For vaccinated travelers, the IATA Travel Pass app allows users to store verified Covid-19 test results and vaccine certification on phones to smooth border procedures on international flights.
Will contracting Covid result in the loss of aviation medical certificate?
Not necessarily. However, some long-term consequences of Covid-19 infection, such as those affecting the cardiovascular and the neurological systems, may be serious enough to be considered medically disqualifying, according to Alves.
On March 26, the FAA released much-anticipated guidance to aviation medical examiners about how to handle medical certificate applications from pilots and air traffic control specialists who have had confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Clearly, at this point in combatting the pandemic and getting back to work, there’s some ambiguity and a lack of 100 percent unanimity about how to proceed. But one fact is indisputable: the sooner we get vaccinated and develop widespread immunity to the coronavirus, the faster business aviation will come back.
Sheryl Barden, CAM, is the president and CEO of Aviation Personnel International, the longest-running recruiting and HR consulting firm exclusively serving the needs of business aviation. A thought leader on all things related to business aviation professionals, Barden serves on NBAA’s board of directors and is chair of the NBAA advisory council.