Israeli NGOs Say Employers Threatening Workers Not Vaccinated Against COVID With Layoffs

Although Israel has no laws mandating vaccinations, groups say many workers are reporting being given a choice to get the shot or be fired

Efrat Neuman
Efrat Neuman
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A coronavirus vaccine is administered in Tel Aviv, last week.
A coronavirus vaccine is administered in Tel Aviv, last week.Credit: Hadas Parush
Efrat Neuman
Efrat Neuman

Some Israeli employers are imposing sanctions or restrictions on employees who aren’t vaccinated against the coronavirus, even though Israel has no laws mandating vaccinations.

Many workers have reported such penalties, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Kav La’oved – Worker’s Hotline in a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Wednesday. Many of these workers are low-paid, not unionized and were told that they needed to be vaccinated to continue working or be fired, stated the NGOs.

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For example, a secretary at an institute of higher education complained that her employer would not bring her back from unpaid leave because she wasn’t vaccinated, and another female worker at an adult daycare center for seniors was told to take vacation time for being unvaccinated. There have also been numerous complaints from hotel employees that their employers are threatening them with layoffs if they don’t get vaccinated.

The NGOs called on Mendelblit to publish an opinion stopping employers from taking such measures. They argued that these sanctions are illegal and could constitute illegal discrimination due to disability or ideology. Unless legislation should explicitly permit it, an employer cannot inquire as to an employee’s vaccination status, force an employee to be vaccinated, or damage his income should he refuse, stated ACRI.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry is advancing a legislative measure that would prevent employees from going to work in certain types of places unless they’ve been vaccinated.

A week ago, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazri published a legal opinion stating that placing workplace restrictions on school staffers who aren’t vaccinated would necessitate legislation. There’s no norm in Israeli law that would block workers from the workplace should they not be vaccinated against the coronavirus, or obligating an employer to keep an employee out of the office for not getting vaccinated, and this applies to schools too, he stated.

While this should technically apply to other workplaces as well, so long as specific issues are not explicitly addressed, employers are facing uncertainty. The result is that some are acting on their own judgment or based on outside legal opinions, and as a result may face lawsuits by workers as a result.

The Manufacturers Association of Israel commissioned a legal opinion from the N. Feinberg law practice stating that it was legal to ask employees if they’re vaccinated or plan to be vaccinated, and that it was preferable to enable unvaccinated employees to work from home or from an isolated part of the office was a preferable solution - or have them be tested regularly. This applies only so long as these measures don’t significantly impact work, stated the opinion.

However, if these measures aren’t possible and the employee needs to be in contact with other workers or customers, the worker can be placed on vacation or on unpaid leave, with the worker’s agreement. If the worker refuses these options, and there’s no other reasonable way to keep the worker employed, the employer can start the layoff process.

Access to various parts of the workspace – including in-person meetings, rides and the office cafeteria – can be conditioned on being vaccinated or having recovered from the coronavirus, the law firm stated. Conditions for unvaccinated workers need to be appropriate, it added.

A store being inspected for coronavirus rules last week.

Workers who are required to be in contact with other workers or the public can be obliged to show a vaccination certificate or a negative coronavirus test conducted outside of work hours, and not at the employer’s expense, it stated.

Things become more complicated for employees who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons and who cannot work from home or in an isolated part of the workplace. In these cases, the employer can demand to see a recent coronavirus test, and should the worker refuse this as well as other reasonable options, he or she could face layoff, the law firm stated. However, employers face a larger responsibility when it comes to finding accommodations for people who cannot be vaccinated, such as finding an alternative position or making greater adjustments to the person’s current job to enable him or her to work from home.

The firm acknowledged Nazri’s opinion, adding that the best way to solve this issue was through legislation, but stated that in the meanwhile, there is nothing keeping employers from taking proportionate steps to protect their employees.

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