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DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. will require most of its salaried employees in the U.S. to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 8 or they could be placed on unpaid leave, the company said.

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The automaker giant on Tuesday sent out a message to Ford’s roughly 32,000 salaried employees about the mandate, CNBC reported. The company said it will consider religious and medical exemptions, company spokesperson Monique Brentley said.

“The health and safety of our workforce remains our top priority and we have been very encouraged by the support of our employees to comply with our protocols, including the more than 84% of U.S. salaried employees who are already vaccinated,” Ford spokesperson Marisa Bradley said in a statement.

In a letter obtained by the Detroit Free Press on Wednesday, Kiersten Robinson, Ford’s chief people and employees experiences officer, wrote, “The science and data tell us the vaccines offer critical protection against COVID-19 and its variants and our goal continues to be for all team members who can, to be vaccinated. … We must do everything we can to protect each other.”

Ford’s 57,000 hourly workers in the U.S. can expect vaccine and testing requirements in the future, Fox News reported. Those requirements will be subject to bargaining with the United Auto Workers, Brentley told The Detroit News.

“Our position continues to be that we strongly encourage members to get vaccinated but understand that there are reasons such as health-related or religious reasons that they can’t,” UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said in a statement to the News.

The announcement by a major company such as Ford may impact other companies, some experts said.

“When Ford sneezes, a lot of other places catch a cold,” Angela Hall, an assistant professor in the School of Human Resources and Labor Relations at Michigan State University, told the News. “They’re following what Ford does because they’re such an influential employer, and they also are linked to the economy in so many ways by the people they employ and the relationship they have with suppliers.”

Employees who refuse to get vaccinated and do not have an approved medical or religious accommodation will be put on unpaid leave with job protection for up to 30 days, CNBC reported. It was not immediately clear what happens after the 30-day period ends, the news network reported.

An employee is classified as fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving both doses of a two-dose vaccine or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson, the News reported.

“This approach builds on our already established vaccine requirements put in place earlier this year requiring employees traveling internationally or those on international assignment, as well as corporate officers, to be fully vaccinated,” Robinson wrote. “This policy will ensure employees covered under the recently announced federal contractor guidelines meet the Executive Order requirements to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 since Ford is a federal contractor.”

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