firefighter Carmel- Reuters- December 3, 2010..
A firefighter walking among burnt trees near Kibbutz Beit Oren, December 3, 2010. Photo by Reuters
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Employers whose businesses burned down amid the Carmel forest fire are still obligated to pay employees' salaries, says Shira Lahat, a labor law expert.

Businesses that burned down or in areas that were evacuated are unlikely to open in the near future, she notes. "However, they'll have to continue paying salaries to workers who would have been willing to work. The employer can send them on paid holiday until the business is operating again or until its status is clear," she says. In extreme cases - businesses caused irreparable or long-term damage - employers can consider firing workers, she says.

However, the law does not explicitly protect workers who were forced to leave their homes, she says.

"Labor laws do not excuse people whose homes were evacuated under such conditions from having to come to work, presuming the workplace is open," she says. "It's doubtful that these workers would be productive over the next few days. It's only natural that they'd have trouble concentrating."

Workers' options include asking to use vacation days or to take unpaid leave. While employers are not legally obligated to approve such requests, it's hard to imagine bosses won't take pity on their employees under the circumstances, she says.

Another labor law expert, Tamar Golan, says she expects the government will compensate business owners as it did during Operation Cast Lead. Business owners received compensation for financial and material damage, while workers who were unable to come to work received their full salaries. A similar agreement was worked out for businesses during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, she notes.

The government is likely to treat the massive forest fire as if it were a war, says Golan. "Regarding firings, I recommend that employers don't even think about it," she says. "The law protecting workers during emergencies forbids firing people under such circumstances, and the Carmel fire is definitely an emergency."