Israeli Court Bars 'Whitewashing of Safety Violations' by Construction Firm

Solel Boneh asked to ban Reuven Ben Shimon, who worked in it’s safety department, from disseminating thousands of documents describing safety issues.

Aerial view of the building collapse at Tel Aviv construction site that injured at least 18 people with at least half a dozen other victims feared trapped in rubble on September 5, 2016.
Courtesy of Israel Police

A Tel Aviv court rejected Wednesday a prominent construction company’s bid to force a senior safety department employee to hand over internal documents he holds and ban him from using them.

The issue of safety standards at construction sites in Israel has made headlines recently, following the collapse earlier this month of a multi-story parking lot in Tel Aviv, resulting in six deaths.

Reuven Ben Shimon, who worked in Solel Boneh’s safety department from 2012, copied thousands of files documenting how the company dealt with work safety issues. He also established a “forum to prevent work accidents.” The company had sought temporary orders to restrain Ben Shimon’s use of the documents.

Solel Boneh also asked for an order requiring the former employee to declare whom he had given copies of the documents to, including journalists.

The Tel Aviv Labor Court denied the request, among other reasons because it suspected it was “intended to deter the respondent and other employees from criticizing the company or exposing the truth.”

Ben Shimon gave certain journalists details of various work hazards he claimed to have witnessed, as well as documents he had in his possession.

Solel Boneh said that from the end of 2015 Ben Shimon started acting in an “offensive and harmful way” toward the company, and among other things launched a “shaming campaign” against it.

The company said Ben Shimon had signed a work termination agreement that included an undertaking to return the documents he had, a statement retracting his allegations and a promise to keep information about the company secret, in return for a grant of tens of thousands of shekels. The company revoked the agreement after the former employee “did not stop publishing negative items about its activity in safety-related issues.”

A month ago the company – the oldest and one of the largest construction and civil engineering firms in Israel – filed a suit against the employee, demanding he returns funds he received when he ended his employment totaling some 140,000 shekels, and asking the court for orders to return all the documents he took. The company also demanded an order forbidding Ben Shimon from giving anyone any information he had obtained during his work to anyone.

Ben Shimon said he had been harassed by his managers due to professional disagreements with the safety department director and had received orders “meaning diverting safety reports and whitewashing safety violations.”

He said the agreement he had signed was a “silence agreement,” and he signed it due to his poor health and “the enormous pressure exerted on him by the company.”

He said in a court debate a week ago that he had copies of about 15,000 documents, and saw a “public interest” in using them and taking them to the media.