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San Diego to start process of firing employees who refuse COVID vaccines and tests

San Diego city employees, who refuse both to be vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 on religious grounds, are now at risk of being fired.

San Diego city employees, who refuse to be vaccinated and tested for COVID-19 because they say both violate their religion, are now at risk of being sacked.

The city confirmed that Advance Notice of Termination letters have been issued for at least three dozen employees, half of them in the San Diego Police Department.

KPBS obtained the letter templates through a Public Records Act. The letters, which are sent by the employee’s supervisor, state in part: “This is to notify you that I am recommending to the Department Director that your employment with the City of San Diego as a (Employee’s Position) in the (Department Name) Department (add Division Name, if applicable) be terminated.”

The letter goes on to say the employees’ refusal to take COVID-19 tests “amounts to insubordination or serious breach of discipline.”

But the letters are just the beginning of the city’s dismissal process for the workers. The letter recommends to the department head that the employee be terminated, but the employee can appeal that decision, and then go through what’s called a Skelly Hearing. After that, if the city still decides to fire the employee, he or she would get a termination notice from the department head.

“Before this Termination takes effect, you may respond to the charges and this recommended action,” the letter states. “You have the right to be represented and may respond either verbally or in writing to (Name, Title), within 10 working days of your receipt of this notice. Failure to respond by that time will be deemed a forfeiture of your opportunity to respond.”

The city could still issue more letters over refusal to test in the coming weeks.

Mayor Todd Gloria told KPBS that police officers have to follow the rules.

“I think we have been exceedingly patient with these folks, we have worked on this on an individual basis to understand where they're at and what the concerns are,” he said. “To the extent that individuals can be out of compliance and continue to work, that is not ideal. But we will follow our due process for these individuals and hope, as the vast majority of them have, that they'll come into compliance.”

“If folks continue to resist being compliant with our adopted vaccine mandate, we will have to terminate their employment with the city, and that would be regrettable,” he added. “We need qualified professional folks to work at the city. We're recruiting folks. We're hiring currently. We would like to have more people coming to work here, and one of the ways to do that is to keep the people that you have.”

San Diego to start process of firing employees who refuse COVID vaccines and tests

The San Diego Police Officers Association did not respond to a request for comment, but wrote on Twitter that if the police officers are terminated, “the city will be pouring gasoline on a fire that is already burning out of control. This is a decision that will not protect public safety and the well-being of San Diegans. It will do just the opposite.“

The employees who objected to both COVID-19 vaccines and tests insist their Christian beliefs instruct them not to use testing swabs because they contain ethylene oxide. The chemical is a known carcinogen, but is not actually present on the swabs — it’s used as a gas to sterilize them. Medical and religious experts say the employees’ claims are groundless.