Are Israel's Rights for Working Mothers Counterproductive?

Women's salaries are still about 20% less than those of men working in the very same positions.

Women's salaries are still about 20% less than those of men working in the very same positions. During job interviews, young women are still likely to be asked the embarrassing question: "Are you planning to get pregnant?" Yet there were amendments to the Employment of Women Law in the past year and a half that work in women's favor, which all working women should know about.

Below are a few of these amendments, presented with the assistance of attorney Orly Aviram of Nahum Feinberg & Co., which represents Israel's largest companies in labor-related matters.

A man who has worked for at least a year in the same workplace before the birth of a child also has the right to unpaid leave, if he is the baby's sole caregiver because his wife is ill or disabled. A father's unpaid paternity leave can be instead of his wife's unpaid leave. Under certain circumstances, a couple can split their months of unpaid leave.

A woman who misses work to breast-feed her baby, or due to a miscarriage, cannot be fired for 60 days after her return to work.

Are all these amendments really good for women and their husbands? It depends who you ask. Attorney Nahum Feinberg, a labor law expert, has his doubts about the reams of legislation intended to improve women's status in the workplace.

"We have proved to ourselves that we are an enlightened society," says Feinberg, "but these amendments are excessive, at the employer's expense."

Feinberg feels that every amendment that benefits working women deters employers, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, from hiring women.

"Business owners say to themselves, 'why should I get into trouble with the Employment of Women Law - which every day becomes more strict with me - or with an Employment Ministry representative, who might not allow me to fire a pregnant worker who is not functioning? It would be better for me to employ men.'"

Avi Ben-David, CEO of high-tech firm Aviv Advanced Solutions, actually prefers to employ women. "Women, at least in high-tech," says Ben-David, "are keenly aware of their rights. They tend to be more loyal to an organization than men. I will never forget [this loyalty] at the height of the high-tech bubble, 10 years ago, when not a single woman left us. If there are amendments to the law - this is natural and proper."