Wringing my hands as an Israeli employer
Regardless of reason, a terminated employee is entitled to severance equal to one month of pay for each year he or she was employed.
Israeli workplace (illustrative) Photo: Veronica Therese
I had to fire somebody today.
Don’t get me wrong – she deserved it.
Warning after warning, behavior modification meetings, discussions about
communication, professionalism, responsiveness, availability, ethics – all the
basic human resources talk I’ve been doling out my entire career. I’ve let go
over 100 people in my 15 years in HR. It hardly phases me emotionally anymore –
in fact, in my former American corporate life, it got to the point where I’d
travel around the country laying people off. I walked into a Miami branch office
once and everybody turned around and walked away from me – I was like the Grim
Needless to say, if I am letting you go, you know it’s coming and
there’s good reason.
That said, my foray into Israeli employment law is
fairly new. The company I help run has been established as an Israeli entity for
two years, so I am (like any good Israeli entrepreneur) learning as I go. Since
my formal background is in headhunting, I am a very selective recruiter – this
plus a corporate employee relations background (trained at union negotiations in
New York – no easy task) equals rarely having to let someone go these days. I
know only too well the cost of turnover, so I’m exceptionally picky when it
comes to hiring.
Given all of this, the employee in question simply could
not perform as expected and had to be terminated. When I looked into the law and
consulted both my partner and our attorney, I was advised that regardless of
reason, a terminated employee is entitled to severance equal to one month of pay
for each year he or she was employed. We needed to pay her out an entire month
of salary, even though she botched the job multiple times and begged me to fire
We are a small company. Losing several thousand shekels is a big
deal. We researched further, to no avail. We were told several times that unless
some major faux pas could be proven (theft, violence) we had no choice but to
pay the severance, cut our losses and move on.
This same week, another of
our employees called me on my cell while I was checking out at Rami Levi. I was
in the express line, balancing my toddler and a pack of ice cream bars, when she
called to apologize. I couldn’t hear her well so I asked for clarification (she
was a great employee, why was she apologizing?) Turns out she was expressing her
regret over having to resign.
Doctors had found a tumor, and advised her
to eliminate all stress from her life immediately so she can focus on recovery.
She’s apologizing to me that she is being forced to quit. Horror-stricken, I
speak a bit further to my 20-something mother of two employee and express to her
that we’ll do everything we can to support her.
I try to wrap my head
around this situation and realize quickly that the best I can do is to reassign
her clients immediately so she can clear her mind.
I set to work managing
logistics, other employees’ availability, making calls, contacting clients, and
then it hits me – she is resigning.
According to the law, she gets
nothing from our company – no severance like the woman we just
Both of these employees have been with our firm for over a
Both work from home and log their time on the honor
One got fired, and one got cancer.
The one who got cancer,
I understand that the laws are written to protect employees
and make it difficult and expensive for employers to terminate. I appreciate
that such measures are taken to ensure that companies skirting the edges of the
law cannot act unjustly. Let’s examine the ethics of my week, though, as an
Our goal as a company is to legally employ professional
Anglos in Israel. They work on a flexible schedule, in English, from home, and
most of our employees seek this type of opportunity so that they can be home
with their kids in the afternoons while earning a living wage, like me. I’m
proud of what we do and I’m dedicated to it.
Debating the merits of
firing the cancer-ridden employee, I considered how to legally provider her a
monetary package equivalent to the employee who embarrassed me in front of my
clients and disappeared for two weeks, unannounced.
Is firing her the
right thing to do? What kind of a business am I running if I’m firing someone
wrestling with a scary diagnosis? The juxtaposition of these two simultaneous
situations is tearing me apart. I can only assume that the systems in place,
National Insurance and the like, will take care of her... but as an ethical
individual, a businessperson, a manager, a mother, a daughter and a Jew – I am
The writer is the managing director of Secretary in Israel
and a mother of three living near Jerusalem.