Court interpreters in Los Angeles County, California have been asked to return to on-site work. The California Federation of Interpreters (CFI), a workers union, said on its website that some members have received return-to-work letters ordering them back to county courthouses by certain dates, effectively ending their telework assignments.
This end to remote work followed an order that “rescinds social distancing” in all LA County courthouses from June 28, 2021. According to a press statement, the presiding judge ordered all courthouses in the county to open without any restrictions to public access, while maintaining the mandatory use of face masks.
Additionally, the Court announced that LA County “will no longer offer the Remote Audio Attendance Program (RAAP) to listen remotely to courtroom proceedings.” The RAAP was meant to be a temporary, Covid-response measure, the Court explained, deployed despite the possibility that people could abuse the policy that prohibits the recording, filming, and distribution of court proceedings.
“Widespread breaches by the public in a recent court proceeding highlighted the need to return to in-person, open courtroom proceedings, which is a welcome development,” the Court added.
The CFI said it met with court administrators on July 22, 2021 “to request an extension of telework [for interpreters] based on the recent spike in new Covid cases in Los Angeles County and the emergence of the extremely contagious and virulent Delta variant.”
It was the second such meeting. After its members started receiving return-to-work letters, union representatives began communicating with court administrators in hopes of modifying or temporarily extending telework “for interpreters who have Covid-related impediments […] either due to health or child / dependent care issues,” the CFI said on its website.
Union reps noted that remote interpreters are currently “being used extensively and with success in various [court proceedings]” and the Court is fully able to keep interpreters working off-site — so “why incur the added liability of bringing them back on-site,” they asked.
The CFI further pointed out that interpreters are being asked to return to “locations apt to be particularly contagious, such as Children’s Court which will most likely have an exceptionally high percentage of users present who are unvaccinated due to age limitations on the current vaccines.”
According to the CFI, the Court said the “on-site need has doubled” following the end to social distancing and they require “all of those currently teleworking back on site.”
The CFI added, “The Court is unwilling to extend any consideration under the teleworking agreement for those who remain at higher medical risk if exposed to Covid, […] those whose medical condition precludes them from the presently available vaccines, [or] take into consideration any Covid-related dependent-care impacts to interpreters in the decision to end telework.”
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The Court also said, according to the union, that interpreters should go through procedures if they are medically vulnerable or have child-care scheduling issues, such as going through the Department of Leave Management for the former, or discussing it with their Supervisor for the latter.
The CFI had earlier filed a complaint with the California Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). After conducting inspections between January 26 to July 07, 2021, the DIR issued a Citation and Notification of Penalty, dated July 7, to the LA County Court for violations to the California Labor Code.
The LA County Court was given 15 working days to appeal the penalty, which it reportedly plans to do, before the DIR order becomes final.
Slator will continue to monitor the situation in California and provide updates as needed.