LA changes course on vaccine mandates, will accept exemptions

When City of Los Angeles employees request religious or medical exemptions to the city’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, the requests are typically reviewed to ensure the exemption requests are valid.

But in a twist, the city ordered approval of all religious and medical exemptions to the vaccination 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, asking them to “administratively approve all pending appeals from current employees” that were filed before Tuesday.

Waiver requests submitted thereafter will continue to be reviewed “on an individual basis and processed in accordance with vaccine waiver procedures,” the memo said.

About 4,900 employees will be affected by the change described in the memo, according to a source familiar with the city’s vaccine requirements who was not authorized to speak publicly. In all, more than 5,550 waivers were requested by city employees, according to the source.

Brown, in an email to The Times, said 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 Employee Relations Executive Committee is made up of Mayor Karen Bass and four members of City Council.

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 on Wednesday.

Representatives of the police and fire unions declined to comment on Friday. The police department and fire department have witnessed some of the most vocal protests in Los Angeles over the vaccination mandate, which was passed by the city council in 2021.

City firefighters and police sued the city, but lost in court. Others protested in different ways: A member of the fire department reportedly wiped his ass with a letter from the city ordering him to comply with the warrant.

He resigned before the investigation into his actions was completed, LAFD spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza said.

Getuiza said 335 employees had requested exemptions from the vaccination requirement by Tuesday. In all, nine were granted, she said.

Under the municipal mandate passed two years ago, employees with health conditions or “sincere religious beliefs” are exempt from vaccination but subject to regular testing. The rules in Los Angeles and elsewhere have led to a cottage industry helping workers explain their decisions to refuse vaccinations.

In some cases, the exemption requests included letters posted on the websites of evangelical churches, conservative legal groups and fee-paying organizations such as True Hope Ministry, according to a Times investigation.

This week’s policy, as described by the Personnel Department, will extend to “employees who have been denied a waiver request and who have been furloughed pending discharge,” according to Brown’s memo.

Personnel directors were also asked to reverse previous denials and resubmit them to the Exemption Review Committee for approval, according to the memo.

A representative for City Council Speaker Paul Krekorian, who serves on the employee relations executive committee, did not respond to a request for comment on the change.

Los Angeles Times

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