Kaiser Permanente rejecting some religious exemptions to employee COVID vaccine mandate

Coronavirus

FILE – General views of Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center on November 13, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)

SAN DIEGO – Health care giant Kaiser Permanente is denying some employees’ requests for religious exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccination mandate on the basis it’s being misused to skirt the requirement, the company said Monday.

The statement from Kaiser comes after a nurse at the company’s Kearny Mesa hospital posted videos on social media last week while being walked out of the facility to be placed on unpaid administrative leave. In the videos, she claims her freedom was being taken away and that she wanted an explanation about why her exemption wasn’t “good enough” from the hospital’s human resources department.

The Oakland-based Kaiser set a Sept. 30 deadline for employees to either be fully vaccinated or apply for a medical or religious exemption, its website shows. But leading up to that deadline, Dr. Andrew Bindman, the system’s chief medical officer, said in a statement Kaiser was notified by labor partners and others of open discussions about “ways to avoid the vaccine mandate by misusing the legitimate religious exemption process.”

A company review found that employees had submitted “similar or nearly identical requests” with language from templated online forms and ultimately reviewed all requests “to ensure their requests reflected their sincerely held beliefs.”

In the review, the system found it was being misused by some employees, who then were placed on unpaid leave. They now have until Dec. 1 to respond to the vaccination requirement, Bindman said in a statement.

“We hope none of our employees will choose to leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated,” the statement reads. “We will continue to work with our employees to allay concerns and educate them about the vaccines, their benefits, and risks.”

Ninety-three percent of Kaiser employees were vaccinated as of Oct. 30, according to the company. About 1% of its workforce has yet to respond to the mandate.

In the case of the local employee, the company said she was told she needed to speak with Human Resources about her request rather than her manager or other facility leadership.

The company said it will work with her “to address her concerns” as well as others seeking exemptions for legitimate reasons.

“We know that vaccination is the most powerful tool we have to stop this pandemic, to prevent more dangerous strains from developing, and to return to normalcy,” the statement reads. “We want to thank our staff who have moved quickly to get vaccinated and submit verification. We understand that for some this may be a difficult decision in an already difficult time.

“We are doing all we can to support that decision-making process with information and discussion.”

More information on COVID-19 vaccinations in San Diego County is available online here.

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