Coping With an Abusive Boss: In Israel, 42 Percent of Employees Will Experience Bullying

A 2016 court ruling in favor of the Netanyahus' ex-housekeeper has improved the treatment of workers who claim abuse. Nevertheless, 'the whole thing is still in its infancy,' a lawyer says

Bullying at work

Complaining about the boss is universal. But in Israel at least, 13% of employees claim to suffer from actual, constant abuse at work, according to a broad-based survey of 900 respondents.

Throughout their career, 42% of employees will experience some bullying at work, reported Dr. Yariv Itzkovich, head of the human relations department at the Kinneret Academic College, and Prof. Sybil Heilborn, dean of the college’s social sciences school, in their paper commissioned by the Economy Ministry two years ago.

During the last two years, awareness of the issue of workplace abuse has risen. It came into the limelight after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu was sued by former employees, the last in November; Shira Raban, a 24-year-old ultra-Orthodox woman, claims severe abuse by the prime minister’s wife (who denies the allegations). It’s true that a bill sponsored by MK Merav Michaeli, which would have categorized workplace abuse as grounds for a civil claim, for which up to 120,000 shekels compensation could be ruled without proof of damage, fell. But a court ruling in February 2016 in favor of Meni Naftali, the Netanyahus’ former housekeeper, is considered as having influenced the treatment of workers who claim abuse. “There were numerous testimonies indicating that employment terms at the prime minister’s domicile were abusive due to Mrs. Netanyahu’s behavior,” the ruling stated.

Sara Netanyahu in court.
Olivier Fitoussi

After the Naftali ruling, says Tamar Golan, an experienced labor affairs lawyer, she noticed that the word “abuse” appeared in more and more cases, though that bill had fallen through. “It came in through the ruling,” she says. “But the whole thing is still in its infancy, like sexual harassment at work was once a new thing. It took years from the enactment of a law to prevent sexual harassment for claims to appear, and they came in by the hundreds.” First, workers and employers need to be aware; then the claims will start, Golan says.

Just last week a Facebook user wrote, in a post that went viral, that he’d quit Foot Locker after his boss refused to approve absence to attend his grandmother’s funeral. Which begs the question, what is abuse?

A boss who mocks or ignores workers, humiliates workers in front of each other, harps on past mistakes and failures, or who dumps his bad mood on his underlings, or is just rude, is abusive, says Dr. Efrat Salton Meyer, a psychologist and organizational consultant. If such things happen once, it isn’t management abuse, but when this sort of behavior recurs frequently over time, it is, stresses Meyer, who lectures at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya.

Sickened at Ichilov

In 2013, Dr. Liana Beni-Adani described corruption in medical tourism at the Sourasky (Ichilov) Medical Center in Tel Aviv to “Uvda” (“Fact”), an investigative television show hosted by Ilana Dayan. She said she had reported to the hospital’s management about it two years earlier. The investigation documented three of her colleagues, Prof. Shlomi Constantini, Prof. Zvi Ram and Dr. Yossi Paz, apparently taking money under the table for operating on medical tourists, people who travel abroad for medical care. In March 2016, the police recommended that the prosecution indict the three for corruption. The prosecution decision remains pending.

Dr. Liana Beni-Adani

The issue here is what happened to Beni-Adani before and after that “Uvda” broadcast. In a 3-million shekel suit she filed in labor court, Beni-Adani claims that in 2015, she was forced to quit Sourasky (really, fired) following alleged abuse and “terrorism” on the job by her superiors, including Constantini, who had been her mentor beforehand at the Hadassah medical center in the 1990s, and brought her to work with him at Sourasky.

She often found herself alone in the pediatric neurosurgery department while Constantini frequently traveled abroad, Beni-Adani claims, including during the violence of the second intifada and including when she was in advanced pregnancy. She had asked him to stay in Israel during her last three months of pregnancy but he went to London and she wound up performing a difficult, 10-hour operation on a boy injured in the head in a terror attack, she claims. Due to her exhaustion, the twins she was carrying developed fetal distress, and were born prematurely. Yet Constantini denied her request to extend the state-mandated three-month maternity leave.

Constantini would give her humiliating tasks, like proof-reading texts that were done for other doctors by secretaries, was over-controlling, addressed her abusively and disparagingly, and did things that smeared her reputation with the doctors and nurses, Beni-Adani claims in her lawsuit. Once, in 2007, when she asked him to take over responsibility for the department because she was tired, “he raged at the mere request and told me to look for another job,” she wrote.

In another instance, ahead of surgery on a premature baby born with cranial fracture, in 2011, Constantini called and said, “Take your hands off that baby,” Beni-Adani claims. She discovered that behind her back, he had told the preemies department team disparagingly that the operation was canceled, she says. He blocked her advancement, and in 2014 helped tailor a job description for a senior management position at Sourasky for another doctor, she claims.

Prof. Shlomi Constantini
David Bachar

The treatment she got from him and the Sourasky management worsened after the “Uvda” show, she claims. “A crazy campaign began, like nothing ever before, to hurt patients I was treating, out of sheer spite against me,” Beni-Adani claims. “Families of patients had to go to the management and demand necessary surgery all in order to get revenge on me and not enable me to carry out my duty as a senior doctor.”

In their defense to the court, Sourasky and Constantini categorically deny Beni-Adani’s allegations, claiming she sued after not getting a position she wanted. “Since then, she has waged total war against Ichilov,” they assert. “She did not cavil at leveling groundless accusations at her managers and colleagues in the department, including the nurses and administrative staff, blatantly ignored working procedures and instructions given to her, and demonstrated disloyalty and uncolleagiality. The claimant lost her senses and behaved provocatively, actually scandalously. She disrupted medical discussions, spat, screamed and cursed.” They accuse Beni-Adani of being “unable to distinguish between her personal issues and the good of the department, and unable to function in a hierarchical medical system.”

Forced to report toilet breaks

The case of Ruby Kapper, mother of two adult children, demonstrates nuances of workplace abuse.

Kapper was awarded 30,000 shekels plus regular compensation. She had worked at a small company called Scan-Doc, as a document scanner. At some stage the owner’s son accused her of conducting a three-hour phone call, which she denied. After that she was relocated to a separate, empty room, and had to report her every exit from the room, including to the toilet, to the owner in the office next door.

That lasted for three months, during which time Kapper was ordered to do manual labor jobs such as unpacking boxes and delivering the contents to a colleague to whom she had formerly been considered equal in rank. She felt humiliated by that alone. Then she quit.

The labor court agreed that Scan-Doc’s conduct “could only be seen as humiliating, degrading, and impairing the claimant’s rights as an employee and as a human being.” The court was especially appalled by Kapper’s relocation to a room empty even of equipment, by herself, without work and under constant monitoring, and by her “having to request permission to go to the toilet like asking the principal in elementary school The defendant treated her like an object, put into a hidden corner for the time being until a decision would be made what to do with her.”

Different companies have a different ethical climate, says Salton Meyer. She found in her study that some companies are more aware and complaints of abuse are fewer; others have an “instrumental ethical climate” where the norms encourage making decisions and achieving goals, and performance, from an egoistic point of view that serves individuals, groups or the company as a whole without considering possible damage to others, she explains. The existence of the two types actually gives room for hope, in her view, in that a company can change is climate.

“It can take a victim a long time to realize he’s a victim. Me, it took six months,” commented a woman who thought of blowing the whistle on workplace abuse at a big, well-known publicly traded company in Israel, and who changed her mind, fearing repercussions. By the time they do call the spade a spade, they may already be badly weakened.

Workers who openly accuse their employers of abuse may well find themselves counterattacked, for instance with claims about their motives, as happened with most of the employees who sued Sara Netanyahu.

Also, workers hesitate to report abuse because of the shame and fear of stigma, or fear of dismissal and impoverishment, says Rinat Oren, who founded the Israeli center for the Prevention of Workplace Abuse. And colleagues who observe the abuse may not get involved for fear of being next – a pattern that makes the abused worker feel all the more alone.

‘Going to die’

Rafi Galili had worked at Menora-Mivtachim for eight years, in the life insurance department. After joining efforts to set up labor representation at the company two and a half years ago, the department manager, Y, became abusive, Galili claims. The abuse included sending Whatsapp internal texts to other managers that Galili saw. According to Galili, she even wrote that the organizers “are going to die Last week they were still trying to show strength.. within two or three weeks, they’ll disappear.” The day after she wrote that they should arrange a couple of complaints against the organizers, “to have weapons in our arsenal in case we wind up in court.”

Some months later, Galili says, he was summoned over several trumped-up complaints. Meanwhile they had poured more work onto him, and while other employees received a 9% raise after the company moved from Rishon Letzion to Tel Aviv, he didn’t get it. He claims the team manager confirmed to him that she’d been told by Y to make his life difficult. His colleagues support him, but only secretly. “When they run into me in the elevator, they say ‘Here’s a real man, the one who isn’t afraid.’ But they are afraid of losing their jobs, and don’t say that outside the elevator.”

Other texts in Y’s Whatsapp communications that Galili saw included pearls like “We need an epidural that neutralizes ticks,” “they never let go, the leeches” and “may they get scoliosis” (that sounds worse in Hebrew).

Another Menora-Mivtachim employee also involved in the labor committee effort fell foul of Y. After seeing her Whatsapp text about “they’re all going to die,” he asked her why she wrote that and says she shouted at him, in front of others, “Who are you anyway? I don’t owe you a thing.” He was mortified.

Attempts to involve human resources at Menora-Mivtachim were fruitless, say Galili and his colleagues.

He’s in talks with management now. “Y has been abusing me for two and a half years,” he says, and he isn’t going to go quietly into the night. “I have been thinking about Shira Raban,” he stresses, referring to the former Sara Netanyahu employee. “In a way, I feel the same. Because of the pressure, an hour of work feels like a whole day.” Suddenly he was no longer wanted, but if they think he’s going to quit, forget it. That’s what the court is for, he said.

After TheMarker contacted Meora-Mivtachim for a response, Galili was fired, by letter.

Menora-Mivtachim told TheMarker that it categorically rejects the ludicrous allegations. The company has good, fair relations with all its employees, it asserted. “It has serious complaints about Galili’s conduct and functioning and he had been in a process ahead of dismissal before you called,” Menora-Mivtachim added. For the sake of protecting his privacy, the company said, it would not elaborate.