A third of complaints regarding discrimination in the workplace this past year were pregnancy-related, according to a report that the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission released on Tuesday.
According to the annual report, which was issued ahead of International Women’s Day next Sunday, the commission handled 781 complaints of workplace discrimination in 2014. Of these, 33 percent were about pregnancy- related discrimination, making it the most common kind reported.
“The decision by employers not to hire [or] promote, or even to fire, an employee due to pregnancy, [a] desire to start a family, or being a parent conveys a message incompatible with today’s society and the Israeli labor market,” attorney Tziona Koenig- Yair, commissioner for equal employment opportunities, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
Complaints of being fired were the most common, accounting for 73% of the complaints about discrimination due to fertility treatments, 64% of those about pregnancy-related discrimination, and 28% of those about parenthood-related discrimination.
Similarly, some 37% of women reported discrimination in their working conditions on grounds of parenthood issues.
The EEOC, established in 2008, is a governmental body under the Economy Ministry which aims to promote equality and challenge discrimination in the workforce.
The foundation of the commission’s work is the Equal Employment Opportunities Law of 1988, which outlaws discrimination in employment on grounds of gender, age, race, nationality, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, personal and family status, pregnancy, parenthood, fertility treatment, belief, political affiliation or military reserve duty.
Koenig-Yair pointed out that of those 14 illegal grounds for discrimination, “already four deal with gender-related issues, and of course, several others are closely related.”
Among the EEOC’s mandates, it has the authority to take on legal cases against employers and provide legal advice for individuals regarding discrimination in the labor market. In addition, the organization works to raise awareness and educate the public on equality, diversity and eliminating discrimination in the workforce.
“We provide initial legal advice to people who reach out to us, though we are able to litigate only the most strategic cases that we feel will have the most impact on a population group,” she explained.
One of the main issues in which the EEOC remains proactive is the gender pay gap: The average monthly wage for women is only 66% of men’s.
On top of that, said the commissioner, with every additional child a family has, a woman’s wages go down 6.5%, while men’s salaries go up 3.5%.
“This is quite disturbing, because having dealt with inequality for the past 15 years, it shows we cannot separate what happens in the private sphere from [what happens in] the workforce,” she said.
Koenig-Yair attributed much of the gender pay gap – which she explained had “not changed much” in the past 30 or 40 years – to a lack of shared parental responsibility.
“Until we see full shared parental responsibility in the home, we will not see equality in the workforce,” she asserted.
She added that the gap – which is almost identical in the US, the UK and Israel – was an international issue and had to be addressed globally through legislation, public awareness and education.
She further cited the recent Apple and Facebook initiative in the US, in which the companies offered to freeze their female employees’ eggs so they could delay starting a family.
“We need to see women as the excellent potential workers that they are in the workforce and not as a ‘walking womb,’” she said. “The workforce and employers need to get out of women’s uteruses.”
To that end, the EEOC has partnered with the Israel Women’s Network and social-justice organizations Shatil and the Adva Center to launch Project of Equal Worth. The three-year initiative, funded by the European Union, seeks to eliminate gender pay gaps in Israel through legislation, public awareness campaigns, and the development of a simulator for employers to check if they have a gender pay gap.
“The gender issue is not a women’s issue, it is a social issue that really has to do with men and women alike, and we really have to mobilize society to realize that this is an issue that we all need to tackle together,” she said.
The report data also revealed a sharp rise in complaints of race discrimination, which went up by 85%, as well as an approximately 40% increase in complaints of reserve dutybased discrimination. There was a 17% increase in religious discrimination complaints.
“The past summer has been quite challenging,” said Koenig-Yair, referring to complaints of discrimination against Arab employees during Operation Protective Edge.
“Combating discrimination and raising public awareness with regard to equal employment rights in the Arab sector has been another one of the primary goals of the EEOC,” she said.
“Life in Israel is mirrored in the workforce,” she added.
“The fact that we are all different is not necessarily a disadvantage, and it can even work in our favor. Israel is a diverse society, and we have to tap into this potential if we want to continue to be one of the leading economies in the world.”