As more Israeli companies say employees will have to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from it to work at the office, the business world is waiting for legal guidance on how to handle the controversial topic.
“Everyone is waiting for the Attorney-General’s Office to present its opinion on this matter, which is expected by the beginning of next week,” said attorney Nachum Feinberg of Feinberg & Co., Israel’s largest law firm in the field of labor relations. “Until then, our opinion is that it is fine for employers to say they will require vaccinations to enter the office.”
Last month, Feinberg’s office discussed legal issues that the coronavirus vaccine presents for the workforce. While requiring medical information from an employee may constitute an invasion of privacy and confidentiality in light of the Privacy Laws and Basic Law, Feinberg said it may be permitted when the purpose is to prevent the risk of infecting others or making workforce decisions.
Two weeks ago, Mobileye became the first major employer in Israel to say employees who are not vaccinated would not be allowed to enter the company’s offices starting in April. Since then, others have followed suit, including Osem, Unilever, Check Point Software, Shufersal, Bezeq, Cellcom and Partner, according to reports in the Hebrew press.
Starting next week, Osem employees who have not been vaccinated will have to submit a negative virus test every three days, the company said earlier this week. Nearly 90% of its 4,000 workers have been vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, Osem said.
Most Israeli employers are waiting for Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s ruling before they set their policies, Feinberg said, adding that labor courts have not forced employers to allow workers to return to the workplace in two recent lawsuits.
The law will likely allow, but not require, employers to block unvaccinated workers from coming to work, he said. It could become mandatory for some sectors, such as education, where thousands of students have been put into quarantine by infected teachers, he added.
“A person who doesn’t want to get the vaccine can’t be forced to, but you can distance him from a crowd or remove him from a plane,” Feinberg said. “People have to be protected.”
“On the one hand, it is very harsh for an employer to forbid unvaccinated workers from working,” he said. “But on the other hand, it puts him in a position where some of his workers could be forced to go into quarantine and cost a lot of money. It’s a big problem.”
Once Mandelblit provides his opinion, it will be deliberated in the Knesset before it is ratified, Feinberg said.
Israel has vaccinated more than five million of its 9.3 million citizens at least once, with the hope of returning to normalcy after three lockdowns that have debilitated the economy. Nearly 6,000 Israelis have died of COVID-19, according to the Health Ministry.