Berkeley enacts COVID vaccine mandate for city workers

Workers have until Nov. 15 to get vaccinated, unless they can claim a medical or religious exemption from the requirement.

The city of Berkeley has set a deadline for workers who are still not vaccinated against COVID-19 to get protected, or — with limited exceptions — potentially lose their jobs.

After weeks of discussions with labor groups, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley announced in an email to employees late Monday that Berkeley has enacted a new policy requiring that workers be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15.

Only those who cannot be vaccinated because of “medical necessity” or “sincerely held religious beliefs,” the policy states, are exempted from the requirement.

“I’m very proud of our employees, who have worked hard to protect our community in this unprecedented time,” Williams-Ridley said in a statement Tuesday. “Having vaccinated employees not only protects our staff, but helps us to better serve our community as we encounter surges or new variants and manage the ongoing presence of COVID-19 in our lives.”


The policy requires workers to report their vaccination status to the city by Oct. 15.

Unless they are claiming an exception, workers must be fully vaccinated a month later — meaning two weeks have passed since they received their second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, or the single-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine. The policy also applies to city interns and volunteers, and new employees must be fully vaccinated by their first day of work.

Any city workers seeking an exemption from the requirement on medical or religious grounds must make that request by Oct. 15. And anyone who is not fully vaccinated as of Nov. 1 will have to get tested for COVID-19 at least once a week.

Failing to get vaccinated or submit to testing “may result in discipline, up to and including termination from employment,” the policy states.

Several California cities have instituted similar vaccination requirements for their employees, but with its tightly limited exceptions Berkeley’s rules join a similar policy enacted in San Francisco as one of the most strict in the Bay Area. San Jose and Walnut Creek, for instance, allow employees to forego vaccination without claiming a medical or religious exception, and instead receive regular testing.

The Berkeley City Council authorized Williams-Ridley to enact the policy at its Sept. 14 meeting, though several key details were not made public until this week.

“This extraordinary step is necessary to protect the health and safety of our community,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who first called for a vaccine mandate in early August, said before the council’s vote to approve the policy.

Williams-Ridley encouraged unvaccinated workers to get their shots soon so they comply with the policy. Appointments can be scheduled through your health care provider or at the state’s myturn.ca.gov website, and information about city vaccination clinics is available at www.cityofberkeley.info/vaccine.

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.