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Workplace bullying in Israel

Michael Decker
Michael Decker

Workplace bullying, also known as “workplace maltreatment,” or “workplace harassment” is one of the most troubling aspects of the Israeli labor market. Whether due to management culture or personal issues, many “bosses” think of their employees as slaves or objects of ridicule. Some employers feel that because they’re the ones paying a salary, they have the right to humiliate, harass and hurt their workers verbally, psychologically, and physically. Only recently has the Knesset turned to address the issue of workplace bullying in Israeli labor law. In this article, attorney Michael Decker will explain the legislation aimed at helping victims of abuse in the workplace.

Menahem Naftali was compensated for workplace bullying by the Prime Minister’s wife.

The recent matter of Meni Naftali, the Prime Minister’s house manager, who was the victim of abusive treatment by Sarah, the wife of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, was highly publicized.

The Labor Law Court supported Naftali in the verdict of Adjudicated Workplace Dispute (Jerusalem) 38335-03-14, Menahem Naftali v. State of Israel – Prime Minister’s Office. Justice Dita Prozinin ruled that: since the state of Israel has no law enforcing a prohibition on abusive and bullying treatment at the workplace, and since there is no established statutory compensation for such abuse, Menahem Naftali will receive compensation in the amount of NIS 80,000, for mental distress due to abusive employment at the Prime Minister’s residence.

The current proposals regarding Workplace Bullying Laws in Israel

The bill for the Prevention of Abuse at Work law passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset in July 2015. Workplace bullying in IsraelThe explanatory notes to the bill emphasize that workplace bullying is a widespread social phenomenon that harms many workers. Harassment at the workplace is a form of repetitive abusive behavior. Rather than an “exceptional” one-time event, workplace abuse involves several distinct incidents.

Harassment creates a hostile workplace environment for the employee. Workplace bullying violates the victim’s human dignity, liberty, well-being, ability to work, and professional reputation. Often, bullying in the workplace harms the mental or physical health of the worker.

The Prevention of Abuse law draft passed a preliminary reading two and a half years ago. However, the bill didn’t yet become an official law. The first reading of the bill in the Knesset has yet to take place. As a result, Israeli labor law does not specifically address workplace bullying at present.

Previous bills on the subject:

In addition to the draft mentioned above, another bill was submitted to the Knesset in 2005. It was titled “the Prevention of Employment Harassment Bill, 2005”. This bill also remains as a draft, and was never established as an official law in the State of Israel.

Yet another bill on the subject was also submitted in 2005. The bill to Prevent Abusive Employment, which also never became a law.

Possible reasons may involve the high costs of implementing the bills in question, estimated at tens of millions of shekels per year.

In summary: at present, Israeli law does not specifically address abuse or harassment or bullying in the workplace. However, the Labor Court did recognize the phenomenon in the Naftali ruling, and even established very substantial compensation for the plaintiff, as noted above.

The difference between acceptable criticism of an employee and workplace harassment:

It is important to emphasize that not every remark or act by the employer that is injurious to an employee constitutes workplace bullying. An employer has every right to conduct a professional review of an employee’s actions in order to improve their performance. On the other hand, a worker who is sensitive or finds it difficult to accept criticism may consider a legitimate professional review as offensive.

Professional criticism by a manager may cause offense to an employee, even though it is an integral part of a professional workplace. The employer’s prerogative is to review worker performance, occasionally giving an unfavorable  assessment. Such a review may be considered professional and legitimate criticism when it is carried out in accordance with the best judgment of the employer. However, an employer is prohibited from criticizing an employee for extraneous reasons. Any criticism of an employee must be done in a proper manner, while maintaining their dignity.

“Workplace bullying”, on the other hand, would be considered harmful by a subjective third party observer. The determining reference point being outside the employee-employer relationship was established by the Honorable Leah Gliksman in the verdict on Labor Dispute10690/07, “Galia Ausker – The First International Bank of Israel”, given on February 05, 2013. In other words: there must be a certain objective dimension that will determine that the employer’s conduct was harmful. It is not enough that the worker feels subjectively harmed by the employer. In addition, the same objectively demonstrable abusive behavior must be repeated, and not a one-time incident.

Workplace harassment as a form of worsening employment conditions:

Keep in mind that even if the employee cannot or does not want to file a suit, they can resign and receive severance pay. Proof of worsening employment conditions allows for a resignation that is tantamount to being fired and entitles the employee to severance pay. However, the employee must prove that they previously complained about the harassment and the employer did not change their behavior as a result.

In summary:

On the one hand, an Israeli employer is obligated to provide the worker with a respectful work environment. Even in the absence of a clear legal prohibition, employers are forbidden to harass and abuse their employees. An employee who suffers from abusive and bullying behavior at their place of work – provided the treatment can be proven on the objective level, and is repeated – can sue their employer. In accordance with the above-mentioned Naftali ruling, that employee may be entitled to monetary compensation.

On the other hand – in view of the fact that three bills on the subject have yet to produce an accepted law in the State of Israel, and in view of the difficulty of objectively proving abuse or bullying or harassment at the workplace, (as many employees are subjectively injured by legitimate professional criticism) – any claim regarding harassment in the workplace will be examined on an individual basis according to their specific circumstances. The Israeli Labor Law Court will issue the final verdict regarding a workplace bullying claim, based on the evidence.

Contact our labor law legal specialists:

Our law firm specializes in Israeli labor law. Contact a branch of our office in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv for a consultation. We will be happy to provide information and legal assistance regarding harassment in the workplace. We also help with any issues that involve labor law in Israel.

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