Knesset panel decries illegal dismissals of pregnant women

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner received approximately 400 complaints by women regarding workplace discrimination in 2010.

February 23, 2011 03:12
3 minute read.
MK Anastasia Michaeli.

Anastasia Michaeli 311 AJ. (photo credit: Ariel Jerzolomiski)

The Knesset Committee for the Advancement of Women met Tuesday to discuss what a number of MKs described as an alarming increase in the number of women who are fired during – and even because of – pregnancy.

“We all should be concerned by data indicating that in 2010, firings of women due to pregnancy rose by 58% over the previous year,” said Anastasia Michaeli (Israel Beiteinu), one of the MKs who initiated the hearing.

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“This phenomenon of firing pregnant women is not just a social injustice, but also harms the national interest, which supports both the integration of women into the work force and the creation of a new generation that should be as big as possible,” added the mother of eight.

The Knesset’s Research and Information Department presented a paper in which they found that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner received approximately 400 complaints by women regarding workplace discrimination.

Of these, 194 concerned discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, and 133 of those were by women who believed that they had been fired due to their pregnancies. In 2009, the commission received 286 complaints from women, of which 127 concerned pregnancybased discrimination, and 93 of which alleged pregnancy-based firings.

The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry’s legal department has submitted 16 indictments in the past two years against employers who have violated the law, which prohibits firing a woman due to pregnancy unless it applies for and received special permission from the ministry to do so.

“Most women who are fired while pregnant never submit complaints,” said attorney Keren Bar-Yehuda from the Israel Bar Association. She suggested that the ministry should distribute information regarding pregnant women’s rights in women’s health care clinics, to raise awareness.

Meira Bassok, the legal counsel for Na’amat, the women’s organization, agreed with Bar- Yehuda’s assessment that the majority of women do not submit complaints, and added that “it is not frequently a case of cleaning women, but rather of teachers, psychologists and dentists. We have complaints that teachers were fired from prestigious schools and nongovernmental organizations.”

Bassok added that the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry should create a survey of those employers against whom complaints are filed, in order to focus strategies on confronting the phenomena.

The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry reported that even when ministry officials refuse to grant an employer permission to fire a pregnant women, there is often little evident connection between the request to fire the employee and the employee’s pregnancy.

“Our working assumption is that a pregnant women will have a very hard time finding alternative work if she is fired, and so we try to realize every possibility to maintain her employment,” said Rivka Makover, a ministry official.

Makover added that in the past two years, she had noted growing awareness among women of their rights, including during fertility treatments.

“We want to get to a situation in which pregnant women are not fired,” said committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud).

“It is also important to protect women who receive fertility treatments, who are also included under the law, but are sometimes not protected because they hide the fact that they are undergoing treatment.

“There are still employers who see each young woman as a time bomb who is liable to get pregnant and give birth,” Hotovely added. “Perspectives such as these prevent women from advancing and realizing their abilities in the years in which they should be advancing and succeeding.”

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