Government Announces Pregnant Women Can’t Be Put on Unpaid Leave

These regulations took effect 11 days ago, leading to thousands of women being sent home

Lee Yaron
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A woman with a stroller in Bnei Brak, Last month
A woman with a stroller in Bnei Brak, Last monthCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Lee Yaron

The cabinet decided on Friday to reverse the emergency regulations it had adopted the previous week, which allowed employers to put employees who are pregnant, undergoing fertility treatments or on maternity leave on an unpaid leave of absence.

These regulations took effect 11 days ago, leading to thousands of women being sent home. Now that the regulations have been suspended, employers wishing to fire women in these categories will need to obtain permission to do so from the Labor Ministry, as determined in a 1954 law. Women who have already been put on unpaid leave will not be affected by the suspension of the emergency regulations.

The suspension came in the wake of two appeals to the High Court of Justice, which the state had to respond to by Sunday. The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights filed a petition in the name of Joint List lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman and another petition was filed by attorney Idit Zimmerman from the Workers’ Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, together with other human rights organizations, represented by attorney Ori Turkia-Shelas.

The Ministry of Labor says that the regulations were not suspended because of these petitions, but because thousands of women have already been sent home, so the number of employer requests to put women who fall into these categories on furlough is expected to fall.

The ministry says that the number of requests to put employees on unpaid leave has spiked since the coronavirus outbreak. “There are usually 1,000 requests per year, but we’ve had more than 9,000 just since March,” said an official at the ministry. “Now, many of these women can apply for unemployment insurance for March and April. After overcoming the bottleneck of unaddressed requests, the emergency regulations were suspended.”

Attorneys Turkia-Shelas and Zimmerman said that they were happy the state got its act together quickly and realized the absurdity of using emergency regulations to reduce the burden on a government department that’s responsible for labor and women. “We’ll continue to act to minimize the damage caused to thousands of women during the few days the regulations were in force,” they said.

Attorney Sausan Zahar from Adalah said there was “no justification for the legitimization of causing such harm to women’s rights that are anchored in law, particularly not by using emergency regulations. The legal validity of putting women on a leave of absence must now be looked into.”

Touma-Sliman, who heads the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, said that the government’s rescinding of the emergency regulations is an admission that damage has been done to thousands of women. “The government is abandoning its female citizens, allowing their unlawful firing. We would welcome this decision if all the women who were fired could appeal their employer’s decision and go through a lawful procedure,” she said.

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