Answering Your Questions — Legal Information on the Coronavirus Epidemic for Employees and Employers
Unpaid vacation, unemployment benefits, sick leave, annual leave, layoffs – the spread of Coronavirus in Israel brings many challenges and uncertainties in the most basic issues regarding labor laws. In this article, which was published on March 24, 2020, we have gathered the most recent available legal information regarding the Coronavirus.
We hope this article will answer the most common questions about the crisis on the part of Israeli employees and employers. We must however emphasize the the most up-to-date guidelines and emergency regulations are published on government websites.
The law offices of Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh, located in Jerusalem and Petach Tikva, specialize in labor law. Our firm provides comprehensive legal advice and guidance to employees and employers on matters such as employee rights, pensions, layoff procedures, personal and collective agreements, and more.
When and How Can Employees on Unpaid Vacation Receive Unemployment Benefits?
Following the recognition of the Coronavirus as a national crisis, the Israeli Employment Service published a notice on unpaid vacation following the national crisis. When employees go on unpaid leave for 30 days or more, they can register on the Employment Service website and apply with the Employment Office in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits are claimed and paid by the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi), which states that when workers are put on sick leave due to a national crisis, they can receive unemployment benefits, even if they do not use all their vacation days. Employees are required to declare that the unpaid vacation is determined per the request of the employer and, to the best of their knowledge, the employer intends to re-employ them later on. The declaration is an appendix to the Employment Offices’s notice.
In Light of Passover Coming, Is There an Obligation to Give a Holiday Gift to Employees on Unpaid Vacation Due to COVID-19 crisis?
When leaving on unpaid vacation, you are not disconnecting, but rather entering a period of suspension. Since there are no all-encompassing guidelines on the law for holiday gifts and bonuses for workers, the question of obligation depends, amongst other things, on the specific agreements between employers and employees. We would cautiously say that, as a rule, during an extended period of unpaid vacation time, employers are not obligated to give their employees a holiday bonus. Yet, this obligation may exist by virtue of a work contract between both parties, or orders and procedures about certain sectors, and sometimes by virtue of a workplace custom over the past years.
In light of these new circumstances, which have yet to be discussed in case law, each case must be examined individually in order to determine whether there is an obligation to give a holiday bonus to employees on unpaid vacation due to Coronavirus, and it is better to consult with an expert lawyer. We have expanded upon this in other articles on our website.
Is it Possible to Reduce the Size of the Workforce Due to the Crisis?
It is better to do this with the consent of the employees. It is possible to reach an agreement on the temporary period of workforce reduction, in light of the circumstances. It is very important that any agreement between the employer and employees will be made in writing, signed by the employees. When employers wish to reduce the workforce, as a rule they can do so, as long as there are no legal barriers (such as regarding pregnant employees), through collective or personal agreements with the employees or through another legal obligation.
It is important that employers verify the state of affairs prior to making such a decision, and it is recommended that they seek counsel from experts in labor laws. Regarding the employees, if they do not agree to reducing their position, they can proceed to file for severance pay upon resignation. In such an event, it is also extremely important to operate in accordance with the law and seek advice if necessary.
Can Workers Be Required to Come to Work During the Crisis?
This is possible as long as long as they follow the latest emergency regulations of the Israeli Ministry of Health. We must emphasize that in light of the regulations being updated every few days, things are subject to change in this regard, and it is important to follow the government’s guidelines. Additionally, it is recommended to reach an agreement, as much as possible, with employees about using annual vacation days or working from home. For the sake of clarity, we emphasize that this is in reference to healthy employees, since in no way are workers who are in quarantine obligated to work. On the other hand, an agreement about working from home during this time can be reached, while workers remain healthy in isolation.
When Does the Obligation to Remain in Quarantine Apply and How is it Defined for Employees?
At the time this article was being written, starting March 9, 2020 self-quarantining for 14 days is required of Israelis returning from any foreign country, as well as for those in close contact with verified patients. In accordance with the order issued by the Ministry of Health, the quarantine period is considered as sick leave for employees who are forced to stay in isolation, as well as for workers whose children (up until age 16) are in quarantine. For this period, a comprehensive medical form must be filled, as per the order issued by the Ministry of Health.
Is Compulsory Annual Leave During the Coronavirus Epidemic Legally Possible?
The Labor Court has established, in a long series of rulings, that the purpose of the annual leave law is for the employees “to rest, relax, disengage from the daily work routine, to change the atmosphere, and to renew their strength” (as ruled in the Nessuah Zannex & Company Ltd. case in the Israeli National Labor Court). The question is whether vacation centered on these present circumstances can be viewed as having met the intent of the law before having been ruled on. In previous cases dealing with this issue in various circumstances, worker’s compensation was terminated or it was decided that the vacation days used should not be deducted from their allotment of vacation days.
It is very important that employees and employers are aware that compulsory leave may now be considered as a worsening of employment conditions and counter to the law’s intent, and this could have legal ramifications. For more on this, see additional articles on our site.
Can Employees Be Fired Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic?
This is possible in principle, but it is important to take note of the employees’ rights as in every employment termination process. This includes giving employees advanced notice of termination, and then holding a hearing prior to firing them.
The Advanced Notice Law states that when employers do not give advanced notice to their employees as legally prescribed, they must pay compensation in an amount equivalent to their salary for the period for which no advanced notice was given. There is also a need to pay severance to employees in accordance with the Severance Pay Law. The same applies to employees on unpaid vacation due to Coronavirus. On the other hand, for employees who are in quarantine, the public health order clearly states that they may not be fired.
Contact a Lawyer Specializing in Labor Law
If you have additional questions concerning the Coronavirus outbreak, we would be happy to help. The office of Cohen, Decker, Pex & Brosh specializes in labor law and in providing a comprehensive legal response to employees and employers. We can be reached at the phone numbers and email address listed below. We wish all of you full health, and we hope for a full return to routine as soon as possible!