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Gov. Newsom Appoints Don Tamaki to Reparations Task Force

Gov. Newsom Appoints Don Tamaki to Reparations Task Force

As the country continues to confront a history of racial injustice, deeply rooted in the legacy of slavery and systemic racism, today, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Minami Tamaki LLP Senior Counsel Donald K. Tamaki and four other individuals to serve on the newly formed Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans.

The formation of this task force was made possible by the Governor’s signing of AB 3121, authored by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), which established a nine-member task force to inform Californians about slavery and explore ways the state might provide reparations.

“California is leading the nation, in a bipartisan way, on the issue of reparations and racial justice, which is a discussion that is long overdue and deserves our utmost attention,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “Last year I signed into law a number of key bills focused on leveling the playing field in our society and ensuring that everyone has a fair shot at achieving the California dream. Today’s appointment of individuals with an expansive breath of knowledge, experiences and understanding of issues impacting the African American community, is the next step in our commitment as a state to build a California for all.”

The five individuals selected by the Governor to serve on this task force represent diverse backgrounds and meet the statutes required by law, which include choosing one candidate from the field of academia with expertise in civil rights, and an additional two appointees selected from major civil society and reparations organizations that have historically championed the cause of reparatory justice.

Other key factors considered for committee candidates included a background in economics and community development, health and psychology, law and criminal justice, faith-based and community activism, and an expertise in the historic achievement of reparatory justice.

The Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans (Reparations Task Force) will have a total of nine members, with two individuals appointed by the Senate and two members appointed by the Assembly.

After months of interviews and careful consideration, the Governor made the following appointments:

Cheryl N. Grills, Ph.D., 62, of Inglewood, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Grills was recently chosen as President’s Professor at Loyola Marymount University, a designation bestowed upon LMU’s most distinguished faculty who already hold the rank of tenured full professor and are acknowledged leaders in their respective fields, having achieved national and international recognition of their work. In addition to her community-based research, her work focuses on racial stress and trauma, implicit bias and community healing focused on the needs of people of African ancestry. Grills has been a Professor of Psychology and Director of Psychology of the Applied Research Center at Loyola Marymount University since 1987. She is Commissioner and Vice Chair of the LA County Sybil Brand Committee where she has served since 2011. She was President of The Association of Black Psychologists from 2011 to 2013. She is the leader of the Global Emotional Emancipation Circles Training Team where she has served since 2009. She is current lead on a national Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color Needs Assessment for several Congressional Caucuses and national civil rights organizations. Grills was leader of the Emotional Emancipation (EE) Circle process under the Community Healing Network in 2009. Grills earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and her Bachelor’s Degree from Yale University with a double major in Psychology and African American Studies. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Grills is a Democrat.

Amos C. Brown, Th.D., 80, of San Francisco, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Brown is a renowned civil rights leader who is one of the few students who studied under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and was later arrested with King at a lunch counter sit-in in 1961 and joined the Freedom Riders who protested segregation in the South. Brown was awarded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Ministerial Award for outstanding leadership and contributions to the Black Church in America and was also inducted into the International Hall of Fame at the King International Chapel at Morehouse College. Brown has been a Pastor at the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco since 1976. He was a Pastor at Pilgrim Baptist Church from 1970 to 1976 and at Saint Paul’s Baptist Church from 1966 to 1970. Brown is President and a Member of the Board of Directors of the NAACP and Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority. He earned a Doctor of Theology degree from United Theological Seminary and a Master of Theology degree from Crozer Theological Seminary. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Brown is a Democrat.

Lisa Holder, J.D., 49, of Los Angeles, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Holder has dedicated her career to racial and social justice and systems change. Holder is a nationally recognized, award-winning trial attorney who has been identified as a “Super Lawyer” by Los Angeles Magazine for four consecutive years. Holder has been Of Counsel at Equal Justice Society since 2016 and Principal Attorney at the Law Office of Lisa Holder since 2010. She was Lecturer in Law and Adjunct Professor at UCLA School of Law from 2017 to 2019. Holder was Adjunct Professor at Occidental College from 2012 to 2016. She was Associate Attorney at Hadsell Stormer Keeney Richardson from 2005 to 2009. Holder was Deputy Alternate Public Defender at the Los Angeles County Alternate Public Defender from 2001 to 2005. She was awarded a Soros Justice Fellowship through the Open Society Foundation in 2001. She was an Investigator and Analyst at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem from 1995 to 1997. Holder is a Steering Committee Member of Equal Opportunity 4 All Coalition and Vice Chair of the Child Care Law Center. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from New York University School of Law and a Bachelor’s Degree from Wesleyan University. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Holder is a Democrat.

Donald K. Tamaki, J.D., 69, of Piedmont, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Tamaki is known for his historic work serving on the pro bono legal team that reopened the landmark Supreme Court case of Korematsu v. the United States, overturning Fred Korematsu’s conviction for refusing incarceration during the mass roundup and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and providing a key legal foundation in the decades’ long Japanese American Redress Movement. He is also Co-founder of StopRepeatingHistory.Org, a campaign focused on drawing parallels between the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II and the targeting of minority groups based on race or religion. The campaign’s current work is focused on the intersectionality of the Japanese American Redress Movement and that of African-American Reparations, with an emphasis on creating solidarity and promoting public awareness on the importance of advancing reparations for African-Americans. Tamaki has been Senior Counsel at Minami Tamaki LLP since 2020, where he also served as Managing Partner from 2006 to 2020 and was Partner from 1987 to 2020. He was a Self-Employed Owner of the Law Offices of Donald K. Tamaki from 1984 to 1987. Tamaki was Executive Director at the Asian Law Caucus – Advancing Justice from 1980 to 1984. He was a Reginald Heber Smith Staff Attorney at Community Legal Services of San Jose from 1976 to 1979 and co-founder of the Asian Law Alliance. Tamaki is a Member of the Bar Association of San Francisco and Asian American Bar Association of the Bay Area. He received the State Bar of California Loren Miller Award in 1987 and the American Bar Association’s Spirit of Excellence Award in 2020. He earned a Juris Doctor degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. This position does not require Senate confirmation and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Tamaki is a Democrat.

Jovan S. Lewis, Ph.D., 38, of Berkeley, has been appointed to the Reparations Task Force. Lewis is an economic anthropologist and geographer who researches reparations, the political economy of inequality, and race in the United States and the Caribbean. His current work focuses on the history and contemporary circumstances of the historic Black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the consequences of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Lewis is an Associate Professor and the incoming Chair of the Department of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 2015. At Berkeley, he has also been Co-chair of the Economic Disparities research cluster at the Othering and Belonging Institute, faculty affiliate in African American Studies, since 2015. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Science degrees in Economic Anthropology from the London School of Economics and a Master of Arts degree in Administration from the University of Miami. This position does not require Senate confirmation, and there is per diem compensation for not more than ten meetings. Lewis is a Democrat.

The Task Force will select its own chair and vice chair and their work will be staffed by the Attorney General’s Office. Members will meet over the next year and conclude their work with a written report on their findings, along with recommendations which will be provided to the Legislature.

Today’s actions build upon the Newsom Administration’s work to acknowledge historic wrongs and combat structural racism and bias in our institutions. In March of 2019, the Governor issued a moratorium on the death penalty, which is unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities and people who cannot afford costly legal representation. Governor Newsom also took action to secure safe drinking water for the 1 million Californians in underserved communities who lacked access to safe water. He also took the historic step of formally apologizing to California Native Americans for the exploitation and violence our predecessors inflicted upon them, and he also announced the Administration’s support for tribal access to co-manage and acquire ancestral lands. Governor Newsom has also taken action to combat decades-long economic inequality by expanding the California Earned Income Tax Credit to millions, including undocumented Californians.

Audio Play ‘For Us All’ by Jeanne Sakata Features Portrayals of Dale Minami, Don Tamaki

Audio Play ‘For Us All’ by Jeanne Sakata Features Portrayals of Dale Minami, Don Tamaki

L.A. Theatre Works has released a new audio play by Jeanne Sakata titled “For Us All” based on the true story of the Korematsu v. United States coram nobis effort led by a team of young—mostly Asian American—attorneys that included Dale Minami and Donald K. Tamaki.

Purchase the audio play for $20.00 from L.A. Theatre Works. Purchase includes a virtual interview with playwright Jeanne Sakata in conversation with members of the Korematsu legal team: Lori Bannai, Peter Irons, Dale, and Don. Please note that the delivery of the audio file after your purchase may take up to 72 hours.

Directed by Anna Lyse Erikson
Producing Director: Susan Albert Loewenberg
Edward Asner as John J. McCloy
Brooke Ishibashi as Karen Korematsu, Clerk
Tess Lina as Judge Marilyn Hall Patel, Times Analyst, Clerk
Mike McShane as Lt. General John L. DeWitt, CBS News Anchor, ABC News Anchor, NBC Reporter
Derek Mio as Dale Minami
Joy Osmanski as Lorraine (Lori) Bannai, Maya
Jeanne Sakata as Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
André Sogliuzzo as Edward Ennis, Victor Stone, NY Times Reporter
Josh Stamberg as Peter Irons
Greg Watanabe as Fred Korematsu, Eric Yamamoto
Paul Yen as Don Tamaki
Producer: Anna Lyse Erikson
Recording Engineer and Sound Designer: Neil Wogensen
Senior Radio Producer: Ronn Lipkin
Foley Artist: Jeff Gardner

Learn more in a great blog post by Lia Chang.

Synopsis: A team of lawyers use a little known legal writ to fight to overturn the conviction of Fred Korematsu, unjustly sentenced for resisting the WWII mass incarceration of all Japanese Americans on the West Coast. While the government uses every tactic to make the case go away, the lawyers and their defendant insist on nothing short of justice.

The play draws much inspiration from Enduring Conviction: Fred Korematsu and his Quest for Justice by Lorraine K. Bannai (University of Washington Press 2015) and Justice Delayed by Peter Irons (Wesleyan University Press 1989).

This L.A. Theatre Works recording is one of two sponsored by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program, a state-funded grant project of the California State Library.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Toxic Heavy Metals Found in Plum Organics Baby Food

Minami Tamaki Investigating Toxic Heavy Metals Found in Plum Organics Baby Food

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating Emeryville, California-based Plum Organics after a congressional subcommittee report released on February 4, 2021, found dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals, including inorganic arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, in baby food products from Plum Organics and other companies.

The products identified in the report include rice puffs, purees, snack bars, and other foods for babies and toddlers. The Plum Organics products named in the report include Mighty Morning Bars and Little Teethers. Minami Tamaki is also investigating claims that the Bay Area-based company’s other products, including its Super Puffs, pouches, Mighty 4 Blends, Mighty Snack Bars and Teensy Snacks, also contain dangerously high levels of toxic heavy metals.

Numerous studies have found that toxic heavy metals endanger neurological development and long-term brain function.  Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of harm from toxic heavy metal exposure.  The report stated that exposure to heavy metals can lead to brain damage in babies and young children, which can result in reduced intelligence or disruption in behavior.  The report went on to note that the Food and Drug Administration has declared that inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury can “lead to illness, impairment, and in high doses, death.”

The report revealed high levels of toxic heavy metals in baby food sold by other companies, such as Gerber, Hain Celestial, Beech-Nut, and Nurture. While these companies complied with the congressional request for information regarding their products, other companies (including Plum Organics) refused to cooperate with the subcommittee’s request. 

If you have purchased Plum Organics products and wish to receive more information about our investigation, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group (CERG) members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

New COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Law

New COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Law

On March 19, 2021, a new COVID-19 paid sick leave law was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, which allows California employees to receive up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave, in addition to regular paid sick leave, if they need to take time off for:

  • Self-isolation or self-quarantine;
  • Dealing with COVID-19 symptoms;
  • Appointments for a COVID-19 vaccine;
  • Dealing with side effects, if any, of the COVID-19 vaccines;
  • Caring for family in self-isolation or self-quarantine; and
  • Care for a child whose place of care or school is not available due to COVID-19.

The new law—Senate Bill (SB) 95—is only applicable to those workers who work for businesses that employ 26 or more people and certain public entities. It does not cover rideshare drivers.

Under the new law, a full-time employee (or an employee who has worked on average 40 or more hours per week in the two weeks before leave is taken) is entitled to 80 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave. Part-time employees with a normal weekly schedule is entitled to the total number of hours the employee is normally scheduled to work for the employer over two weeks. Part-time employees with variable hours are entitled to 14 times the average number of hours worked day for the last six months before taking leave. The employer cannot require a covered employee to use any other paid or unpaid leave, paid time off, or vacation time before, or in lieu of, the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave.

In 2020, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“Families First Act”) which provided leave protections and wage replacement benefits for workers during COVID-19.  Around the same time, California also enacted a COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave which allowed employees of companies with 500 or more employees to take approximately two weeks of paid sick leave due to COVID-19. Those supplemental paid leave programs ended on December 31, 2020, which left some employees with only three days of paid sick leave and eight weeks of paid family leave per year. 

This new COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law covers that gap, as it is retroactive to January 1, 2021. So, if any employee has taken any unpaid leave for any of the qualifying reasons, that employee is entitled to reimbursement.  The employee should make an oral or written request to the employer and the employer must issue the reimbursement payment on or before the payday for the next pay period. The new supplemental paid sick leave law will expire on September 30, 2021.

Other Questions?

If you have questions regarding legal issues arising from the ongoing pandemic, you may contact the Minami Tamaki Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.  Employers and employees should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information.  Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.  Any links contained in this article are only for the convenience of the reader, and do not constitute recommendations or endorsements of the contents of the third-party sites.

Remembering and Honoring Garrick Lew on the Fifth Anniversary of His Passing

Remembering and Honoring Garrick Lew on the Fifth Anniversary of His Passing

It was five years ago today on March 19, 2016, that we lost our dear friend and this firm’s former law partner Garrick S. Lew. His absence is still deeply felt to this day.

We remember Garrick on this anniversary with love to his family – wife Diane Hiura, sons Dillon and Brandon, father Share, sister Sherene, and brother Rictor and Rictor’s wife Patty.

Throughout his life, Garrick stayed true to the principles that guided his life: advancing justice, fighting for the underdog, mentoring young attorneys, and being fiercely loyal to family and friends.

Garrick, the first of three children, was born on July 25, 1950, in Oakland, Calif., to parents Share and Jennie Lew. A product of Oakland’s public schools, Garrick received his B.A. with Honors from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971, and his J.D. from UC Berkeley Law in 1974. From his first years as a student at Cal, he fought for the establishment of an ethnic studies program, demonstrated in the Third World Strike, and helped establish youth organizations in Oakland’s Chinatown.

Throughout his legal career, Garrick was an ardent champion of civil rights and social justice, and a staunch defender of those unable to defend themselves. As a fearless young lawyer, he represented Wendy Yoshimura, the fugitive who was caught with Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation Army. He was also part of the legal team fighting the eviction of tenants from the International Hotel, and provided pro bono services to demonstrators arrested in anti-Vietnam war protests.

It was out of this sense of justice and pride in his heritage as an Asian American that he helped establish the Asian Law Caucus while still a law student. Garrick later co-founded Minami, Tomine and Lew, one of the first Asian American law firms in the country. The firm later became Minami Lew & Tamaki, and then Minami Tamaki LLP when Garrick started his own practice in 2006.

In his 42 years of practicing law, Garrick specialized in criminal defense trial work with a focus on complex white-collar cases, but also served on the federal court’s Criminal Justice Panel for 30 years, handling hundreds of cases for indigent clients.

Garrick received numerous honors, awards, and recognitions for his professional accomplishments. He was also one of the funniest people alive, sometimes unintentionally.

To honor Garrick’s lifetime of accomplishments, the MTYKL Foundation established the Garrick S. Lew Legacy Fund. Because of the generosity of numerous donors to the Fund, the MTYKL Foundation was able to partner with the AABA Law Foundation in creating the Garrick S. Lew Fellowship, which awards $10,000 to a third-year law student committed to a criminal defense practice after graduation.

Garrick will always be greatly missed, and his legacy continues with those who walk the path he helped blaze.

Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on the 10th Anniversary

Remembering the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami on the 10th Anniversary

The Great East Japan Earthquake hit Japan’s Tōhoku region ten years ago on March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. Japan Time (March 10, 9:46 p.m. Pacific Time).

15,900 people died from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami. 9,500 people were missing in the aftermath of the disaster. A decade later, 2,500 people are still unaccounted for. More than 450,000 people became homeless as a result of the tsunami.

It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan and the fourth most powerful recorded earthquake in the world. The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that may have reached heights of up to 133 feet and traveled at 435 mph up to six miles inland.

The tsunami caused nuclear accidents, primarily the level 7 meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex, and the associated evacuation zones affecting hundreds of thousands of residents.

The World Bank’s estimated economic cost was $235 billion, making it the costliest natural disaster in history.

Incredible progress has been made, but the area and its people have not fully recovered. Survivors continue to mourn the loss of their families and loved ones. A phone booth in a garden on a hill in the Japanese village of Otsuchi allows “phone calls” to those who perished. There have been 240 suicides in the past decade thought to be connected with the disaster. The nuclear power plant meltdown left large areas of mountains and forest that cannot be cleared of radioactive material. Entire towns remain unsafe.

Following the disaster, Minami Tamaki joined relief efforts led by JCCCNC and helped raise $490,000 in combined donations and matches. We received thousands of donations from individuals and from dozens of the professional, community and student organizations that hosted their own fundraising efforts.

The activities were so heartwarming: a 15-year-old student who organized her own concert; numerous t-shirt sales; restaurants donating a percentage of their profits; elementary school students dipping into their piggy banks and donating pounds of coins and even their birthday money; and even preschoolers and their families organizing a garage sale.

We remain grateful to this day for the incredible generosity and outpouring of support of those who contributed.

Tomorrow, March 11, at 3 p.m. Pacific Time, the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco will host a virtual event “Unshakable Friendship Beyond Borders: 10 Years Since the Great East Japan Earthquake” remember the victims of the disaster and to thank the people of the United States for their boundless support and encouragement. The program will include a minute of silence and feature inspiring stories of Japan-U.S. exchange following the disaster. The event is free and in English, but registration is required.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Seresto Flea and Tick Collars Linked to Death and Illness of Pets

Minami Tamaki Investigating Seresto Flea and Tick Collars Linked to Death and Illness of Pets

Minami Tamaki is investigating reports of numerous injuries and pet fatalities linked to the Seresto flea and tick collar.  According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) documents, Seresto collars have allegedly been linked to approximately 1,700 pet fatalities, 75,000 pet injury reports, and 1,000 reports of injuries to people.

The Seresto collar, developed by Bayer and now sold by Elanco, is a top-selling pet item used as a flea and tick repellant and for dogs and cats.  The collar works by releasing small amounts of pesticide onto the animal.  Bayers says that the pesticide is strong enough to kill fleas, tickets, and other pests, but that it is safe for dogs and cats. 

Consumers allege that the reports of death and injury linked to Serresto collars are disproportionately high when compared to similar products on the market.  Individuals have reported injuries to their pets ranging from rashes to neurological damage to, in extreme cases, death.  Consumers also report that humans can also suffer harm from close contact with pets wearing Seresto collars.  These injuries and side effects to humans include seizures, nasal and throat irritation, heart arrhythmia, and fatigue.  

EPA documents obtained through public record requests allegedly show that it has been aware of the dangers of Seresto collars, but that it has failed to take action to protect the public.

If you have purchased a Seresto flea and tick collar and would like more information on this investigation, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group (CERG) members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.

Minami Tamaki Investigating Accellion Data Breach

Minami Tamaki Investigating Accellion Data Breach

Minami Tamaki LLP is investigating reports of a data breach tied to Accellion, Inc. (“Accellion”), a Palo Alto, California-based file transfer and service company.  

Accellion’s flagship product, File Transfer Appliance (“FTA”), is a platform used for “secure” third-party transfers of computer files.  In January 2021, Accellion reported that unauthorized third parties had infiltrated the FTA platform used by numerous companies and organizations.  Accellion described FTA as “a 20-year-old product nearing end-of-life.” 

Supermarket chain Kroger announced on February 19, 2021, that an unauthorized person gained access to Kroger files by exploiting a vulnerability in Accellion’s file transfer service.  Accellion confirmed unauthorized access to the data and personal information of Kroger Health and Kroger Money Services customers.  Kroger announced that it has discontinued the use of Accellion’s services, reported the incident to federal law enforcement, and initiated its own forensic investigation to review the potential scope and impact of the incident.    

Washington State officials have announced that the data of more than one million residents was exposed through the Accellion data breach within the Office of the Washington State Auditor.  Washington State residents have alleged that the data breach revealed their personal information, including their name, social security number and/or driver’s license or state identification number, bank account number and bank routing number, and place of employment. 

Accellion previously announced a security breach at the University of Colorado.  The exposed data may include the personally identifiable information of students, prospective students, and employees.  Health and clinical data and research data may also have been exposed through the data breach.

Other entities reportedly impacted by the Accellion data breach include the law firm Jones Day, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.

Accellion contends that it was the target of a sophisticated cyberattack.  However, critics allege that it failed to properly secure its platform and continued to market and sell the FTA product knowing it was outdated and vulnerable. 

Companies and organizations who have suffered these data breaches are in the process of notifying affected individuals.  If you were impacted by an Accellion data breach and wish to discuss this matter, you may contact Minami Tamaki Consumer and Employee Rights Group attorneys Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, and Claire Choo at (415) 788-9000 or through our online form.  We look forward to the opportunity to speak with you.

Guidance for Employers on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Guidance for Employers on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Widespread COVID-19 vaccination is considered essential for many employers to safely bring employees back to physical worksites.  This has raised questions about whether employers can require employees to get vaccinated as a condition of returning to the workplace.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) recently issued guidance on vaccination-related issues in the workplace.  Key guidance from the EEOC includes:

  • Employers can implement policies generally requiring that employees obtain COVID-10 vaccinations, but employers also must consider accommodations for employees who cannot be vaccinated due to disabilities or sincerely-held religious beliefs.
  • If the vaccination requirement screens out or tends to screen out an individual with a disability, the employer must show that an unvaccinated employee would pose a “direct threat” to the health or safety of other individuals.  A “direct threat” is defined as a “significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.”  Employers must conduct an individualized assessment in determining whether a direct threat exists.  This assessment considers:  1) the duration of the risk; 2) the nature and severity of the potential harm; 3) the likelihood that the potential harm will occur; and 4) the imminence of the potential harm. 
  • If the employer determines that the individual who cannot be vaccinated due to disability poses a direct threat at the worksite, the employer must determine whether it can provide a reasonable accommodation that would eliminate or reduce the risk so that the employee does not pose a direct threat in the workplace.  The employer must provide a reasonable accommodation if one exists, unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” (i.e. impose significant expense or difficulty). 
  • Also, if an employer is on notice that an employee’s sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance prevents the employee from receiving the vaccination, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for the religious belief, practice, or observance (unless it would pose an “undue hardship”).
  • If there is no way to provide a reasonable accommodation that would eliminate the direct threat, the employer can exclude the employee from the worksite.  However, this does not necessarily mean that the employer may terminate the employee.  Employers should explore other accommodations such as work-from-home arrangements or paid/unpaid leave for employees who must be excluded from the workplace.  The employer must determine if any other rights or requirements apply under federal, state, or local law. 
  • Employers may request proof of vaccination from employees.  However, employers should exercise caution in asking follow-up questions regarding the reason an employee has not been vaccinated.  This is because doing so could elicit information about a disability, and such inquiries are subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act’s job-related and business necessity requirement. 

Employers are advised to follow the EEOC’s guidance on vaccinations in the workplace in order to ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws regarding disabilities and religion.  For more information on COVID-19 safety requirements for California businesses, you may contact Minami Tamaki Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force members Sean Tamura-Sato, Lisa Mak, or Claire Choo online or call us at 415-788-9000.

*The contents of this article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal or medical advice.  Information in this article may not constitute the most complete or up-to-date legal or other information.  Readers should contact a licensed California attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Use of this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Minami Tamaki LLP.