Grocery Store Packers: Can They Sit Down on the Job?

Hila Weissberg
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Hila Weissberg

Most supermarket customers are in and out of the supermarket relatively quickly even if they have to stand in line at the checkout counter for awhile.

For many supermarket employees, though, whose job it is to pack up the merchandise, they have to remain on their feet most of the day because their employers don’t provide them with a chair.

In a post on Facebook this week, one man, Shoham Ziv, decried the situation for packers at a branch of the Hetzi Hinam supermarket chain.

In Israel, most shoppers bag their own groceries, but most food retailers also offer delivery and packers are employed to assemble the merchandise that is being driven off to the customer’s home. And sometimes the packers help out customers in bagging their purchases, particularly at busy times.

“I approached a checkout counter with a cart of merchandise and while checking out, I asked why the packers don’t sit down. It’s required by law, after all,” Ziv wrote in his post, which had been shared about 5,000 times as of this writing.

“The answer was that the law only applies to cashiers and not the packers themselves. A packer caught sitting during her shift is sent home. That’s store policy. The shifts at the store are a number of hours and even when there are no customers, they are not allowed to rest their aching feet.”

TheMarker looked into the situation at a Mega Ba’ir store on Pinkas Street in Tel Aviv and a Rami Levy branch in Ramat Gan, and found that at the Mega branch, packers were allowed to sit down when there were no customers that needed them.

At the Rami Levy store, TheMarker encountered the claim that they were not allowed to sit down at all. That’s arguably a violation of the law that requires employers to provide a chair for employees for their work unless the work cannot be performed while seated.

In response, Rami Levy, the controlling shareholder of the chain that bears his name, said the company had no prohibition against employees sitting while at work

“In any event, after the matter was brought to our attention, it was decided to add benches at the stores for the benefit of the packers. If packers are tired, no one would tell them ‘don’t sit down,’ but you need to understand that in addition to packing, the packers are also required to keep the surroundings clean and to clean the checkout counter,” Levy said.

Levy said it was not technically possible to pack groceries while sitting down.

“The customers would go crazy,” he insisted. “You also can’t put a chair next to every checkout counter. What’s the next step? That we bring the packers coffee and cake?” The owner of Hetzi Hinam declined to respond.

After the law was passed, seating was provided for cashiers and security guards at supermarkets but not for packers at most places.

The legality of the practice turns on whether packers need to stand to carry out their job, but it certainly appears that at least when there are no customers to serve, requiring the packers to stand is illegal. Yet for some packers, many of whom are up in years, the only time they get to relieve their feet is during their half-hour breaks.

“As long as an employee can carry out his work seated, he has to be allowed to sit,” said Ono Academic College’s Yuval Elbashan, who waged the battle that resulted in the passage of the law.

“If employers are decent, they’ll bring over a table and chair and let the packer work sitting down. When the fight on behalf of the cashiers got started, employers claimed that cashiers stand to provide service at eye level. Now everyone agrees that this was a sorry excuse,” he said.

Employees should know that if they sue their employers over the issue, they can be awarded compensation without proving damages, Elbashan adds.

They would have to prove that they can do their jobs sitting down, but lawyer Arie Avitan said that at the least, it would be impossible for an employer to claim that packers must remain standing even when there are no customers to be served.

A supermarket checkout. Imports haven't brought down prices the way they should haveCredit: Dan Keinan