Israeli Scholars Warn Against Firing Workers Who Refuse COVID Vaccine

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A restaurant in Tel Aviv, earlier this week.
A restaurant in Tel Aviv, earlier this week.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Or Kashti

Against the backdrop of a public debate over imposing workplace restrictions on people who have not been vaccinated, experts on labor law from various law faculties around the country have warned against such a move.

In a position paper, they argue that employers have a greater obligation to use proportionate measures before preventing an employee from coming to work. They warn against harming mainly people with lower paying jobs.

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In a brief to the district labor court in Tel Aviv, Dr. Sharon Elroy-Preiss from the Health Ministry supported restricting the entry of unvaccinated employees to schools, facilities for the elderly and places of work that are abiding by Health Ministry regulations.

“The public debate is not sufficiently sensitive to distinctions that need to be made among unvaccinated people,” says Dr. Einat Albin from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law. “Despite promoting vaccination, one has to use criteria that are common in labor law to ensure that harming workers’ rights will not be severe or disproportionate. This is especially important in times of serious economic and social crisis.”

Fifteen labor law experts signed a position paper in which they say that along with the advantages of vaccination, weight must be given to the great importance of employment for people who have not been vaccinated. In addition to ensuring a safe workplace, they refer to people with disabilities who cannot get vaccinated, as well as to the strong correlation between vaccination rates and socioeconomic status. They say that a policy limiting the right to employment will mainly harm weaker segments of the labor force.

The experts also express their concern that these measures will become a means of coercion to get workers vaccinated. Instead of sweeping measures, they suggest examining to what extent vaccination is relevant to an employee’s role. Working with children, they argue, is not the same as working alone in a warehouse.

The experts suggest looking for alternatives that impinge less on the rights of unvaccinated employees, such as using protective devices or allowing work from home, even for short periods. “Asking for a negative corona test every 72 hours is less harmful than removing someone entirely from the workplace or cutting their wages,” they write. They also argue against dismissing employees who have not been vaccinated, especially in the near future. If a vaccination is relevant to the job, they recommend sending the employee on paid leave of absence.

An aide at a school for children with special needs who was dismissed from her job has filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Education. Elroy-Preis stated in a brief to the Tel Aviv Labor Court: “It’s important to identify places where an unvaccinated worker endangers others, where vaccination can be a condition for working.” This is an acceptable condition in cases of at-risk populations, “since these groups cannot protect themselves,” she wrote.

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