Report: Employers not addressing sexual harassment

Ministry officials stated that the number of people reporting sexual harassment incidents in the workplace had fallen by more than half since 2000.

A large number of Israeli employers are failing to address sexual harassment in the workplace and are not in compliance with a 1998 law to ensure that such behavior is sufficiently addressed, according to a document published Tuesday by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Researched throughout the past year and a half, the 20-page report noted that more than half of the country's women have no idea who to turn to at their place of employment if they find themselves victims of sexual harassment, despite the fact that all companies with more than 25 employees are meant to appoint a person responsible for receiving such claims. "I am really not surprised," commented Rina Bar-Tal, director of the Israel Women's Network, one of the women's activist groups involved in drafting the original legislation. There are 12 points to the law, including advertising [women's rights] and appointing a person in charge of receiving complaints." The report, compiled by ministry official Michal Elfasy, noted that 35 percent, or 270,000 working women between the ages of 20-45, were not even aware of the law's existence, with only 35,000 (4.4%) women coming forward to report instances of verbal sexual harassment against them. Of that figure, 43% said their complaints had not been sufficiently dealt with. Ministry officials highlighted the fact that the number of people reporting sexual harassment incidents in the workplace had actually fallen by more than half since an earlier study on the subject was conducted in 2000, immediately after the law was passed. "In the six years since the original data was collected there has been a rise in the level of public awareness regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as a campaigns carried out by various women's organizations," explained the ministry, concluding that the drop was connected to a reduction in the number of incidents taking place. However, Bar-Tal pointed out that many women were afraid of reporting sexual harassment because either they did not know their rights or they were scared of losing their jobs. "It's like a 'chicken and egg' question," she said. "Why is there less reporting? Is it because people don't know their rights or is it because they are scared of losing their jobs and being ridiculed?" Bar-Tal said the IWN currently runs a series of workshops countrywide to advise women of their rights in the workplace and operates a hot-line where callers can enquire about how to proceed with a complaint. "This law is no different than other laws protecting people's rights," she continued, highlighting that the government does not specifically follow up on the law stipulating that pregnant women cannot be fired from their jobs. "Not all laws are carried out as they should be." Bar-Tal noted that within the next few days, Israel's first commissioner for Equal Employment Opportunities within the Labor, Trade and Industry Ministry is set to take office. As part of her duties, Tziona Koenig-Yair, a lawyer and former director of the IWN, will be responsible for attempting to enforce the law to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, she said.