Judge Slams McDonald's 'Insensitive, if Not Cruel,' Treatment of Employees in Israel

Court allows $10 million class action to go ahead, citing hamburger chain's refusal to let cashiers sit and nonpayment of vacation days and other benefits

McDonald's in Ramat Gan's Canion Ayalon mall
Nir Keidar

The vice president of the Tel Aviv Labor Court described McDonald’s treatment of its workers in Israel “borders on ignorance of worker rights, if not cruelty.” Ariela Gilzer-Katz made the statement last week in approving the request to hear a class action that claims the chain doesn’t let employees sit during shifts, among other offenses.

The decision allows the suit against McDonald’s Israeli franchise, held by Aloniel, to go ahead. The plaintiffs seek 35 million shekels ($10 million) in damages.

“McDonald’s treatment of its workers borders on insensitivity to workers’ rights, if not cruelty,” Gilzer-Katz said.

“McDonald’s wasn’t inclined to give workers a place to sit while on the job. Each worker is entitled to a chair, and the refusal to offer any chairs at all is evidence of this ignorance.”

The court took note of a sign hanging at the chain’s Tel Hashomer branch that states, “Each worker must stand at his workspace! Cashier – only at the cash register, and do not move, face the customer and look for customers who have not ordered. Baker – prepare orders and take care of customers who have finished ordering.” This reveals McDonald’s attitude toward its workers, noted the judge.

Gilzer-Katz ruled that should McDonald’s lose the suit, each employee will receive 1,000 shekels in compensation. McDonald’s has 180 branches in Israel.

It has been proved to the court that McDonald’s employees may not sit while working, and workers should be given the choice of sitting while taking orders and processing payments, she wrote. McDonald’s offer of chairs in a back room does not meet legal obligations, she added.

The suit was filed by three employees of its Neve Savion outlet. It includes additional allegations, including that McDonald’s didn’t pay vacation days, pension, or holiday payments.

McDonald’s argued that restaurants are not obliged to pay these social benefits, but the court found otherwise.

“We received the impression that McDonald’s violated the law mandating that workers can sit on the job, and did not pay mandatory benefits,” stated the court.

The suit names as beneficiaries all McDonald’s employees as of the date it was accepted as a class action. It calls for 2.1 million shekels in compensation for unpaid vacation days, 22.6 million shekels for unpaid pension contributions, and 5.8 million shekels for unpaid holiday payments.

At this stage of the suit, McDonald’s will be charged 110,000 shekels in court and legal fees.

McDonald’s argued in its defense that it signed an agreement in 2008 with the Histadrut labor federation stating that it would place one chair in a back room for workers, and as many as three chairs for branches with 15 workers or more. The judge countered that the Histadrut did not represent the workers at the time, and that it had not been proved that even this agreement was enforced.

McDonald’s stated in response that the court had merely accepted the petition to hear a class-action suit, and nothing more. The company believes that even this is erroneous and disproportionate, and intends to appeal, it stated.

“We hope that the ultimate court ruling will reject this ridiculous suit, because if not, the entire restaurant industry and other industries will be forced to retroactively pay billion of shekels,” it stated.