Experts say employers violating election day vacation rights ‘willfully’ or out of ignorance

Election day laws concerning work and pay causes confusion for both employers and employees.

March 16, 2015 17:52
3 minute read.
west bank settlement

Palestinian laborers work on a construction site in a religious Jewish settlement in the West Bank. [File]. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Many employers are violating employment law by “willfully – or due to being unaware of their obligations” – intimidating their employees into working on Election Day, said longtime employment lawyer Russell Mayer on Monday.

Mayer’s statement was confirmed by numerous accounts in different industries, including by other employment lawyers.

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Another employment lawyer, Hila Porat, said that “the law does not prohibit employing employees on Election Day of their own free will.”

Complicating matters further, she said that the laws on the books have no official “instruction regarding the amount of payment due to a worker who works on Election Day.”

That said, Porat noted it was crucially important for employees to know that the accepted judicial interpretation regarding extra payment for employees who choose to work on Election Day is that they receive 200 percent of their regular salary.

Porat said this is based on a 2004 Haifa Labor Court ruling, among others.

But Mayer pointed out that even though an employee may voluntarily work on Election Day, the employer may “encourage” the employee to “volunteer,” so it is “crucial for employees to be aware of their rights, so that they can resist the encouragement from their bosses.”

He said that Israeli employment laws are intended, generally, “to protect employees – sometimes against their own inclinations.”

Experts have said that many employees, without being told explicitly, understand from their employers what is expected of them to avoid getting docked pay, or to not be replaced or retaliated against in some way down the road.

That can mean a fine line between whether an employee authentically volunteers or feels compelled to do so.

For some time, Mayer has provided “pro bono [free] advice to olim via AACI and Nefesh B’Nefesh” on the issue, but more recently he has also provided advice through a Facebook group called Ask an Israeli Lawyer.

He does not have any exact statistics, but based on his latest interactions through those forums, Mayer said, “I can conclude that this phenomenon is quite prevalent among employers of olim, who are more likely to be unaware of many of their rights and their employers’ obligations, and there has been a recent uptick in queries regarding snow days and Election Day.”

Mayer has said his impression is that many of the employers who call him are looking for excuses to allow them to compel their employees to work. A number of other sources in different industries, including heads of institutions, confirmed the phenomenon, but all wanted to remain off the record to avoid retaliation, highlighting the sensitive nature of the issue.

Some, on an anonymous basis, even added that there is some informal collaboration between competitors within the same industry to figure out overlapping strategies that would better cut down on employees taking off full vacation days, so that employees could not look to competing institutions to demand better treatment.

There are also institutions that present the day off on Election Day as a right that, if exercised, obligates the employee to get someone to replace him for that day, and they do not mention the overtime aspects of working on Election Day.

With some employers, a choice is presented of either working on Election Day at normal pay rates, or taking the day off, but being burdened with finding a replacement employee.

Some experts have also commented that the problem particularly impacted smaller businesses, women, the haredi sector and Israeli Arabs.

They have said that many employers feel that Israel is far too employee-friendly, that they pay overly high taxes, and that employees abuse a full day off on Election Day when they only need a short time to actually vote.

In terms of recourse, experts have said employees can take the day off and try to go to court if their salary is docked, but that few employees will view this as worthwhile. Instead, Section 137 of the Election to the Knesset Law provided a practical alternative: to approach the Central Elections Committee and get protection or get the issued addressed.

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