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'Employers intimidate workers on Election Day'
By YONAH JEREMY BOB
01/22/2013
Lawyer says there may be "phenomenon” of employers illegally intimidating employees, especially women, Israeli-Arabs.
 
There is “probably a widespread phenomenon” of employers illegally intimidating their employees to work on Election Day, said long-time employment lawyer Russell Mayer on Monday on the eve of elections, confirming numerous accounts in different industries, including by other employment lawyers.

Aryeh Rachlin, another long-time employment law expert who also worked at a large law firm that represented one of the trade unions, agreed that there was a widespread problem.

He added that it particularly impacted smaller businesses, women, the haredi sector and Israeli-Arabs, among others.

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.

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While Mayer said he had no statistics on the phenomenon, he said that based on the number of inquiries he receives for guidance both from employers and employees, he believes it is “not a small limited phenomenon.”

Mayer said his impression was that many of the employers who called him were looking “for excuses to allow them to compel their employees” to work.

Israeli election law stipulates that Election Day is a paid national vacation for the entire work force except for specifically designated jobs, mostly in public services, such as the election commission workers, police and transportation, but also including at least part-time hours (up to six hours) for food establishments and some other workplace categories.

Private sector employees must pay employees who do not work on Election Day and may not compel them to work.

However, the law does permit employment on Election Day if an employee voluntarily consents to work.

This is where much of the controversy can arise, as what is “voluntary” can be ambiguous in the employer- employee relationship if an employer asks an employee to work on a certain project, without making an explicit threat, said Rachlin.

In other words, Rachlin noted many employees “understand” from their employers what is “expected” to avoid getting docked pay, or to not be replaced or retaliated against in some way down the road without being told explicitly.

So there is a fine line between whether an employee authentically “volunteers,” or feels compelled to do so.

Rachlin said that the problem started outside of employers governed by collective bargaining agreements as the enforcement standards and culture on these issues were often uneven.

According to a memorandum disseminated by Mayer, the law does not address the issue of how much employees who voluntarily work on Election Day must be paid.

However, Mayer said that in view of the prevailing practice among the General Union and employers, as well as the payment provisions of Civil Service Regulations, the legal interpretation of the former chairman of Central Election Commission and rulings of the Labor Courts, an employee who works on Election Day is entitled to 200 percent of his average daily salary, or alternatively, his regular salary with the addition of one bonus vacation hour for every hour of work on Election Day.

Rachlin said that many employers and employees were unaware of the possibility of being paid 200%, but in any event reiterated that it could not be forced on an employee.

Mayer said that he gets a large number of inquiries from English-speaking immigrants through referrals from Nefesh B’Nefesh and AACI.

Mayer also stated that “abuse is probably across the board,” impacting all sectors of society, but that new immigrants, Israeli- Arabs and other sectors might be even “more likely taken advantage of,” either because of ignorance of their rights. or because they are perceived by employers as “weaker.”

Rachlin agreed with those sentiments and added that women also often felt that they had less bargaining power and were more easily pressed by employers to work.

Regarding haredim, Rachlin said the problem is even more complex because many employers and community members look down on the secular state and reject taking off work for a secular holiday like Election Day the same as they reject observing a moment of silence on Remembrance Day.

Rachlin explained the employers’ feelings as being that Israel is far too employee-friendly, that they pay taxes “through the nose” and that employees abuse a full day off on Election Day when they only need a short time to actually vote.

Curiously, Mayer noted that he received many dualinquiries recently both about Election Day rights and about snow-day rights.

For example, during the recent snow in Jerusalem, many employers and employees had disputes about whether the employee was entitled to a vacation day if they could not get to the office, or if it was difficult for.

In terms of recourse, Mayer said that 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.

Rather, he said that Section 137 of the Election to the Knesset Law provided a practical alternative: to approach the Central Elections Commission and get protection or get the issued addressed.
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