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San Francisco moves to suspend employees for not disclosing vaccination status

Pedestrians cross the street near a San Francisco police car in Chinatown on March 17.
Pedestrians cross the street near a San Francisco police car in Chinatown on March 17. San Francisco is planning disciplinary actions against employees who refused to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Nearly 20 police, fire and Sheriff’s Office employees in San Francisco are facing 10-day unpaid suspensions for refusing to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status by the city’s Aug. 12 deadline.

The employees — including eight in the Police Department, seven in the Fire Department and two in the Sheriff’s Office — received letters from their department heads this week informing them of the potential disciplinary action, the San Francisco Chronicle first reported.

Hundreds more may be notified next week.

“The health and well-being of city employees and the public we serve are top priorities during our emergency response to COVID-19,” officials said in the letter, obtained by the Chronicle. “Your failure to comply with the vaccination status reporting requirement endangers the health and safety of the city’s workforce and the public we serve.”

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Many health experts believe mask mandates and tougher vaccine requirements will be needed in the coming months to avoid more serious coronavirus surges.

San Francisco was the first major city and county in California to announce COVID-19 vaccination requirements for its employees.

Most employees will have 10 weeks to obtain their shots after the Food and Drug Administration grants final approval to at least one of the vaccines, but some who work in high-risk settings will be required to be inoculated even sooner, officials said. The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is reportedly poised to get FDA approval next week.

The Aug. 12 deadline simply required employees to report whether they had yet received their doses.

Almost all of the city’s 36,000 workers reported their status by the deadline, and about 90% of them were already vaccinated, Department of Human Resources policy chief Mawuli Tugbenyoh said Friday.

A small number failed to respond. Those are the ones now facing suspension.

“These suspensions are moving forward as a last resort,” Tugbenyoh said. “We do not wish to move forward with discipline on any employee but our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of both the public and our workforce. Unvaccinated individuals pose a safety risk to both.”

Though the city is recommending the suspensions, each department will make the final call, and most allow workers to appeal, he said.

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Individual vaccination exemption requests due to valid medical or sincerely held religious beliefs will also be considered by the city.

L.A. city employees would have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by early October unless they get an exemption.

San Francisco, like much of California and the country, has seen a surge in coronavirus cases spurred by the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The county is among the most vaccinated in the state, with 78.2% of residents receiving at least one dose, according to The Times’ tracker. The threat of suspension without pay reflects the seriousness with which officials are taking the crisis.

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Even still, there has been pushback.

The San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Assn. this month said many employees would retire or quit if forced to get the vaccine.

Approximately 160 out of 700 deputy sheriffs are not vaccinated and “prefer to mask and test weekly,” the group said.

In June, nearly 200 city employees submitted letters to the Human Resources Department opposing the vaccine mandate, which they said infringes upon religious and constitutional rights.

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And at least one city employee — firefighter Eigil Qwist — has filed a lawsuit, the Chronicle reported.

The L.A. City Council has voted to direct city attorneys to draft a law requiring people to be at least partially vaccinated before heading to indoor sites.

The issue has been hotly debated, but both federal and state agencies have affirmed that employers may require vaccinations. Gov. Gavin Newsom has already issued vaccine mandates for state and healthcare employees, and President Biden has said he will require vaccinations or rigorous testing for federal workers.

The Los Angeles City Council this week voted to require COVID-19 vaccines for city workers, and will not allow them to opt for testing instead.

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Tugbenyoh said the next hurdle in San Francisco will be getting those employees who responded by the deadline but said they were not yet vaccinated to move forward with obtaining their shots.


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