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With the economic recession forcing more and more pregnant women out of the workforce, financial settlements in two labor disputes over the past week could serve as a warning to employers not to be so hasty in laying off such women, according to Nirit Toshav-Eichner, a doctoral student and government researcher who specializes in women and work trends.
Toshav-Eichner, whose most recent study published in March showed a surge in firings of pregnant women and those undergoing fertility treatment since the recession started last year, said the Woman's Law of 1954 has certain loopholes but the proper interpretation of that law by the judicial system could improve the situation.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, hours after a woman was awarded NIS 108,000 in damages after being dismissed from her job in the Dan region while undergoing fertility treatment and a few days after a pregnant Jerusalem woman who was fired after only four days on the job received NIS 70,000 in compensation, Toshav-Eichner said, "These cases will hopefully make employers think and rethink their intentions to fire women in such a condition."
"There is a big difference between the law and the ruling in these cases," said Toshav-Eichner, who is also a trained life coach and an organizational consultant.
She explained that under the Woman's Law, any employer who wants to dismiss a pregnant woman must first receive permission from the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. In today's economic climate, most employers claim the dismissal is out of financial concerns, even if that is not the case, she said.
A pregnant woman is usually considered the weakest link in a company because she will not be around for much longer, Toshav-Eichner said. Today's situation is very similar to what happened during other economic recessions such as in the 1980s and in 2001-02, she said.
"The courts look at these cases with a much wider perspective than the ministry does," said Toshav-Eichner, adding that she sees such cases as paving the way to reforming in the existing legislation.
A spokeswoman for the Israel Women's Network, which assisted the pregnant woman fired after four days on the job in gaining compensation, told the Post there is still a long way to go to improving the situation.
"Women are always the first to be fired during times of recession and even though implementation of the law is improving, it is still a big problem," she said. "There is still not enough knowledge among employers that this is simply not acceptable."
"I hope these cases will encourage other employees who have been victims of discrimination to come forward and speak up," said Orit Noked, deputy minister of industry, trade and labor, whose ministry oversees the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission. The commission represented the second woman, who was fired from her long-term position as a secretary for a large commercial firm while she was undergoing fertility treatment.
Attorney Sharon Avraham-Weiss, who represented the woman on behalf of the commission, said Wednesday that she hopes the case will send a clear message to employers not to discriminate against women in this way.
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