L.A. shifts course on vaccine mandates for city workers, will approve exemptions
When Los Angeles city employees file for religious or medical exemptions to the city’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, the requests are typically reviewed to ensure that exemption requests are valid.
But in a twist, the city ordered the approval of all religious and medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate that were filed by city employees as of Jan. 31, according to a city memo reviewed by The Times.
Personnel Department General Manager Dana Brown sent a memo to department heads this week, instructing them to “administratively approve all pending appeals by current employees” that were filed before Tuesday.
Exemption requests submitted after that will continue to be reviewed “on an individual basis and processed according to the Vaccine Exemption Procedures,” the memo says.
Roughly 4,900 employees will be affected by the change outlined in the memo, according to a source familiar with the city’s vaccine requirement who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. In all, more than 5,550 exemptions were sought by city employees, according to the source.
Brown, in an email to The Times, said that the Executive Employee Relations Committee voted to approve the policy at its Jan. 27 meeting. It doesn’t need City Council approval, she said. The Executive Employee Relations Committee is composed of Mayor Karen Bass and four City Council members.
At the same time, the city’s requirement that employees be vaccinated against COVID-19 remains in place, according to a memo Bass sent to department heads Wednesday.
Transitioning out of the COVID emergency phase could eventually spell the end of universal access to free vaccines, treatments and tests.
Representatives for the police and fire unions declined to comment Friday. The Police Department and the Fire Department saw some of the most vocal protests in L.A. over the vaccination mandate, which was passed by the City Council in 2021.
City firefighters and police officers sued the city, but lost in court. Others protested in different ways: One member of the Fire Department allegedly wiped his buttocks with a city letter ordering him to comply with the mandate.
He resigned before the investigation into his actions was concluded, said LAFD spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza.
Getuiza said 335 employees sought exemptions to the vaccination requirement before Tuesday. In all, nine were granted, she said.
Under the city mandate passed two years ago, employees with medical conditions or “sincerely held religious beliefs” are exempt from vaccination but subject to regular testing. The rules in L.A. and elsewhere led to a cottage industry helping workers explain their decisions to refuse the vaccinations.
In some cases, the exemption requests included letters posted on websites of evangelical churches, conservative legal groups and fee-based organizations such as True Hope Ministry, a Times investigation found.
The policy this week, as outlined by the Personnel Department, will extend to “those employees who were previously denied an exemption request and have been placed off duty pending discharge,” according to Brown’s memo.
Personnel directors were also directed to rescind previous denials and resubmit them to the exemptions review committee for approval, according to the memo.
A representative for City Council President Paul Krekorian, who serves on the Executive Employee Relations Committee, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the change.
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