California State Assembly employees who didn’t start the process of obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination by September 1 and who don’t have an approved religious or medical exemption on file have now been placed on unpaid leave — even those who work remotely — according to legislative sources who spoke to RedState on condition of anonymity.
Speaker Anthony Rendon announced the policy on August 16, stating that the mandate was implemented at his direction “and with the support of Members,” but Members who didn’t wish for their staffers to be subject to this mandate were completely ignored or not consulted. Rendon’s tweeted statement feigned empathy and had a theme of “We just want to help.”
We’re implementing a new policy regarding #COVID19 vaccinations for Assembly staff.
My full statement is below. pic.twitter.com/1b0qHSMp8k
— Anthony Rendon (@Rendon63rd) August 16, 2021
In reading the memo sent to all employees, it was clear that the actual policy had a much sharper bite — even if it was short on details. As the California Globe reports, Rendon noted that the Assembly already had an 80 percent vaccination rate, but that was not enough to “end” COVID:
“Vaccination is our best bulwark against transmission, even in the face of the Delta variant.
“Therefore, this requirement is mandatory and violations may be subject to adverse action, up to and including termination of employment.”
The memo didn’t address whether employees who’d been infected with COVID-19 and recovered, therefore having antibodies, would still be required to be vaccinated. It also didn’t state whether, like other workplaces, employees could be tested daily instead of being vaccinated, or whether they could seek permission to work remotely instead of being vaccinated. Employees who wanted to request religious or medical exemptions were directed to contact their human resources representative for “guidance.”
One paragraph toward the end of the two-page memo was both ignorant and chilling.
“This policy will create a safer workplace and support the four out of five employees who have already taken the important step of vaccination. We will continue to help those who have not been vaccinated to comply, including appropriate leave for vaccination and vaccination reactions, which Assembly employees are already entitled to.”
“Support” the 80 percent of vaccinated employees how? A great number of the employees aren’t even present at the Capitol during this part of the session – remember, a Member’s district staff are Assembly employees too, and because of the ongoing, neverending state of emergency numerous Assembly employees are still working from home. Employees who have to physically enter the Capitol are forced to wear a mask — double-layered — over their nose and mouth at all times and are tested multiple times a week, whether they’re vaccinated or not. So just how is one random, masked, unvaccinated employee going to infect a masked, vaccinated employee? If that’s possible, we should just give up right now.
Rendon continues with the chilling statement that they will “continue to help those who have not been vaccinated to comply.” In other words, “You will assimilate.”
Because of the lack of detail, a follow-up “FAQ” memo was sent by Debra Gravert, the Assembly’s Chief Administrative Officer, on August 23. As to whether there are other alternatives to vaccination, Gravert wrote:
The COVID-19 vaccination is a requirement of all employees. Exemptions will be considered if you are unable to be vaccinated for a medical or sincerely held religious belief.
What if an employee had a documented COVID-19 infection and still has antibodies?
Employees are still required to provide documentation that they have received the COVID-19 vaccine or have an approved exemption on file.
What if they just want more time? Nope.
Regardless of whether you are working remotely, all employees are required to comply with the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
How can the Assembly require that employees take the jab? Gravert wrote:
Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, an employer may require employees to receive a vaccination against COVID-19 infection so long as the employer does not discriminate against or harass employees or job applicants on the basis of a protected characteristic, provides reasonable accommodations related to disability or sincerely held religious beliefs or practices, and does not retaliate against any employee for engaging in protected activity (such as requesting a reasonable accommodation).
Is placing the employee on unpaid leave without giving them an opportunity to do their job remotely retaliation? According to what Gravert is saying, only if their refusal to be vaxxed is due to a sincerely held religious belief or “disability.”
Even if the Assembly wasn’t allowed to retaliate, harass, or discriminate against an employee who decided to remain unvaccinated, that wouldn’t mean anything. The Assembly Rules Committee notoriously looks the other way when powerful Members want to retaliate or harass people, and the definition of “retaliation” changes frequently.
Knowing this, Members whose staffers were unceremoniously left without pay — and who could be unable to collect unemployment if they’re fired — are afraid to stick up for their employees and go to bat for them with the Rules Committee, which also has control of Assembly HR. In addition to being retaliated against by the Democrat leadership personally, their employees could be fired to set an example for any other Member who might want to fight back. Since the termination would have been due to failure to follow a mandatory job requirement, it could be difficult for that employee to even be eligible for unemployment. Assembly employees, who are at-will, non-unionized, civil servants, are unable to fight back against the mandate the way teachers, nurses, firefighters, and law enforcement officers are.
Still, Assembly insiders tell RedState that a group of Members are meeting with outside counsel to see how they can best help their staffers and get them back to work — at least remotely — until this is worked out.
The California State Senate does not have a similar mandate.
Legislative sources couldn’t say definitively whether Gov. Gavin Newsom knows that the Assembly took this punitive, unnecessary action against these staffers or not. But it’s a good question for him to be asked.
(NOTE: California attorney Harmeet Dhillon’s Twitter thread on employer vaccine mandates is instructive.)