Emergency Coronavirus Rules Allow Immediate Unpaid Leave for Pregnant Women in Israel

The regulation also applies to employees engaged in surrogacy adoption or residing in a shelter for victims of domestic abuse

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The cabinet has approved an emergency regulation allowing employers to put pregnant employees on unpaid leave without a special permit.

Large numbers of employees have been placed on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus crisis. The new order approved this week eliminates the need for an employer to obtain permission from the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry before putting an employee who is pregnant, undergoing fertility treatment or on maternity leave (including 60 days after their return to work) on leave.

The rule also applies to employees engaged in surrogacy adoption or residing in a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.

The regulation was proposed by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry and was passed by the cabinet without being put to a Knesset vote.

Labor Ministry officials say the change was designed to ensure that people whose workplaces were affected by the coronavirus crisis can collect unemployment benefits. But members of a coalition of Israeli workers’ rights organizations say it constitutes a grave violation of employee rights.

The lawyers Ori Turkia Shelas at WIZO Israel and Idit Zimmerman of the Tel Aviv University Law Faculty Workers’ Rights Clinic have sent a letter to Labor Minister Ofir Akounis and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning they may petition the High Court of Justice against the regulalion.

“Under the cover of emergency regulations, an unethical decision wasapproved to overturn a protective law and violate the rights of women in this time of crisis,” said WIZO Israel Chairwoman Ora Korazim. “In an instant thousands of women who are pregnant, undergoing fertility treatments or after a maternity leave were rendered vulnerable to an egregious and unnecessary violation of their rights.”

The Labor Ministry says it has been overwhelmed by nearly 10,000 applications for permission to place employees covered by the new regulation on unpaid leave, and has processed less than half of them. While their employers wait for an answer, officials and women employees are forced to use their vacation days. Under the new regulation, they can claim unemployment benefits instead, retroactive to mid-March, the ministry says.

Israel Employment Service figures show 57.7 percent of people registering for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus crisis are female, compared to 50 percent before the pandemic.

In a statement, the coalition of workers’ rights organizations criticized what it denounced as a decision “to deny women, who are in the most vulnerable position vis-a-vis the employment situation, the protection granted them under the law.” It warrns that many women may find themselves jobless afterr the crisis as a result of these new rules.

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