Delta Air Lines is requiring all new employees to get vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19, becoming one of the first U.S. companies to mandate the shots.
"Delta will require all new hires in the U.S. to be vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they qualify for an accommodation," the company said in a statement.
The requirement will protect Delta's employees and customers, ensuring the airline can safely operate as the number of fliers increases, the company stated.
"I'm not going to mandate and force people if they have some specific reason why they don't want to get vaccinated, but I'm going to strongly encourage them and make sure they understand the risks to not getting vaccinated," CEO Ed Bastian told CNN in a recent interview at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta, which is being used as a vaccination center.
"One caveat to that, though. Any person joining Delta in the future—future employees—we're going to mandate they be vaccinated before they can sign up with the company."
More than 60 percent of Delta workers have received at least one vaccine dose, and Bastian believes the final number will approach 80 percent.
But Bastian said it wouldn't be fair to current employees to make vaccination a requirement to stay in their job, "if there's some philosophical issue they have."
For instance, if a worker signals they are unable to get a COVID-19 jab because of a sincerely held religious practice or belief, an employer "must provide a reasonable accommodation for the religious belief, practice, or observance unless it would pose an undue hardship under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act," the commission stated.
Most U.S.-based companies have chosen not to mandate vaccines, at least for now. No other airlines have announced vaccine requirements.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby reportedly told workers in January that he thought it would be "the right thing to do" for the company to require vaccination, but the airline hasn't yet ordered workers or customers to show proof of a shot.
Some destinations force travelers to be vaccinated, the airline noted last month.