The Dallas-based low fare carrier Southwest Airlines has reversed its decision to put unvaccinated staff with pending religious or medical exemptions on unpaid leave status after the December 8 federal deadline after protests broke out among its employees. Southwest Airlines is covered by the Biden administration's requirement to have employees vaccinated against COVID by the 8th of December unless the workers are granted medical or religious exemptions, as the 1971-founded airline is a federal contractor.

"The employee will continue to work, while following all COVID mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their position, until the accommodation has been processed," an internal note written by Southwest Airlines' Senior Vice President of Operations and Hospitality Steve Goldberg and Vice President and Chief People Officer Julie Weber read, as reported by Breitbart.

Just last week, Southwest Airlines suddenly canceled nearly 2,000 flights, sparking rumors that its employees went on a strike. The company refused to comment on reports and blamed the weather and air traffic issues instead for the flight cancellations. However, footage of Southwest Airlines employees protesting the COVID vaccine mandate outside its Texas headquarters spread across social media.

According to Forbes, Republican leaders reacted harshly to Southwest Airlines' COVID vaccine mandate, defending its thousands of workers. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas took to Twitter on Sunday to call the cancellation of flights a result of "Joe Biden's illegal vaccine mandate at work," referencing his administration's stringent vaccine requirement.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy also sided with Southwest Airlines employees, saying that he was "100% behind" them and even called for his fellow Republican leaders to "Shut them down. And when they come begging for bailout - not one [Republican in the House] or [Senate] should support them."

On Friday, Southwest Airlines' pilots union sought help from a court to block the company from implementing the COVID vaccine mandate. The company insisted that the "The weekend challenges were not a result of Employee demonstrations."

"This is a change from what was previously communicated. Initially, we communicated that these Employees would be put on unpaid leave and that is no longer the case," the company relented in memo sent to employees. Instead, Southwest Airlines has set a November 24 deadline for its employees to complete their vaccinations or seek medical or religious exemptions.

During the period of pending exemptions, employees will continue to receive their salary and those who are rejected will continue working "as we coordinate with them on meeting the requirements (vaccine or valid accommodation)," CNBC reported.

A Southwest Airline spokeswoman announced, "Southwest acknowledges various viewpoints regarding the Covid-19 vaccine, and we have always supported, and will continue to support, our employees' right to express themselves, with open lines of communication to share issues and concerns."

Goldberg and Weber informed staff that they may reapply for a medical or religious exemption in the event that their request for exemption is denied.