Israel’s Minister of Defence has signed a declaration, currently applying to the entire state, imposing ‘special conditions’ on the homefront. The Homefront Command has subsequently issued various instructions limiting public gatherings and restricting presence in public areas, including workplaces.
In a number of areas, there is now a prohibition on being present at workplaces near which there is no functioning shelter. Educational institutions are also currently closed, which means that many employees with children will need to remain at home with their children.
The Law for Protection of Workers in Times of Emergency prohibits the firing of an employee who is absent due to compliance with directions arising from the special conditions declared by the state. This also covers employees who are absent because they must supervise a child up to the age of 14 (or 21 if there are special needs) who is living with them.
The law does not regulate the employer’s obligation to pay wages to employees who are absent due to circumstances relating to the special conditions. However, experience from past emergency situations has taught us that collective agreements are usually entered into retroactively, and extension orders issued, entitling employees to payment for the period of absence, with the state compensating employers.
An employer who wishes to pay wages to employees who are absent from work, or make other arrangements such as allowing work from home, making advance payments, or using accumulated paid vacation days (i.e. when not required by the agreements and extension orders described above), may generally do so, subject to the particular characteristics of the workplace and its specific needs.
At the same time, the Work During Emergencies Act allows employers to require employees to be present at the workplace if it has been declared an ‘essential organisation’. To this end, the Minister of Labour has signed an order enabling employers to require employees to attend work at workplaces which provide essential services to the public.
A general permit has been given for employment in the security sector for the entire period for which the special conditions remain in effect. This allows employees in that sector to work for up to 14 hours per day, subject to the employee’s consent and a limit of 37 overtime hours per week.
This complex situation raises many issues affecting employers, employees, and the workplace in general. Some essential employees have been called up for reserve military duty. Some essential employees must stay at home with their young children. Employers will need to consider the possibility of transferring employees to perform tasks in place of colleagues who are absent, make decisions on working from home, and potentially deal with situations involving the voicing of political opinions on social media, among other things.
In light of the great complexity of the current situation, as well as the sensitivity needed when addressing these issues, we suggest obtaining specific advice regarding these matters. This should consider the unique characteristics of each workplace and relevant legal norms, as well as the current situation of specific employees and their families.