L.A. fires 24 employees over COVID vaccination requirements

Months after Los Angeles rolled out requirements for city workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the city said that as of last week, it had terminated 24 employees for violating those rules.

The terminated employees include a dozen workers at the Los Angeles Fire Department, as well as smaller numbers of employees in the city attorney’s office, the Los Angeles Police Department, the parks department and Los Angeles World Airports, according to the city personnel department.

As of last week, an additional 53 L.A. city employees had received formal paperwork that precedes possible discipline or termination for violating the rules, and seven more LAPD employees were awaiting action by a disciplinary panel, according to personnel department spokesman Bruce Whidden.

So far, the number of terminations represents a tiny fraction of city employees in Los Angeles, which employs nearly 57,000 workers. But the city is still vetting more than 5,000 exemption requests, which could lead to more terminations if unvaccinated workers get turned down and still refuse the shots.

Los Angeles leaders voted last year to require city employees to either get vaccinated for COVID-19 or secure a medical or religious exemption. In the months since, the city has fended off legal challenges from groups of firefighters and police employees seeking to halt the rollout of the vaccine requirements.

Yet the fate of many unvaccinated employees is still unclear. As of this week, the vast majority of requests for religious and medical exemptions were still pending — with more than 5,200 requests awaiting action and about 400 having been either approved or denied, according to city figures provided by Whidden.

Because each worker could request both religious and medical exemptions, the number of employees affected may be smaller than the total number of requests. As those decisions are being made, unvaccinated workers whose exemption requests are still pending have been required to get regularly tested for the coronavirus.

As Los Angeles has pushed to roll back other pandemic rules — including requirements for restaurants and other businesses to check that indoor patrons are vaccinated against COVID-19 — Councilman Joe Buscaino recently called for the city to roll back the vaccination requirement for city workers.

Buscaino argued that the city risked losing too many police officers and firefighters if the rule remained unchanged, saying that it should offer a “testing alternative.”

He introduced a proposal asking for city staff to report back on the feasibility and impacts of rescinding the requirement, which was seconded by Councilman John Lee. The idea has yet to be voted on by the council.

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