Employers penalize workers in reserves – opinion

In a survey conducted several years ago among employers, 55% admitted that they preferred not to hire workers who still serve on reserve. It is hard to believe that reality has improved since.

Gantz with reservist paratroopers 390 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gantz with reservist paratroopers 390
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
I have recently been exposed to an event that went under the radar due to the coronavirus and the recent political crises.
Shay Shemes is a Lieutenant-Colonel in the reserves and former commander of the Kfir Battalion. At present he is a doctoral student at the University of Haifa and a teacher of citizenship at ORT Galilee in Nazareth Illit. On reserve he serves as chief of staff of the West Galilee headquarter.
As the corona crisis broke out, he was enlisted. Alongside his new duties, he continued teaching his students via Zoom, as all his colleagues did.
While on reserve duty, he received a telephone call from his school principal. The principal informed him that the school had returned to partial frontal teaching and demanded that he show up immediately. Shemesh responded that he was on active service and would show up immediately upon his release, to which the principal criticized him several times for being enlisted, often at no avail.
This was not the end of the story. The following day the principal contacted Shemes again, informing him that she was summoning him for a hearing before dismissal.
Shemesh asked the principal whether she had any complaints about his teaching and she candidly admitted that she had no pedagogic complaints, save that he serves long periods on reserve duty.
Following this unpleasant episode, Shemesh applied to several functionaries, in the Education Ministry, at ORT headquarters and with the Teachers Union. In the best cases they expressed sympathy, declared Shemesh. Others told him that he had no case or even accused him of being chutzpahdic (arrogant).
Shemesh’s story reminded me of my own experience. Upon my discharge after four years of military service – three years compulsory service and another year as a graduate of Officers School – I arrived at the university in order to register for engineering studies. I was happy to meet a former schoolmate and asked him whether he also came to register.
“No” was his reply. “I came to pick up my graduation certificate.” Obviously he had found a way to avoid military service, and while I and most of our class – still most – served in the army, he completed his academic studies.
He was not the only one. More of my colleagues chose not to serve and were as well at the end of their studies or succeeded in their jobs. We got no assistance in closing the gap between us and those who did not serve. Not only didn’t the gap close, on the contrary, it widened. While they progressed at their positions, I was just starting my studies. While they enjoyed university holidays, I served on reserve duty and again had to endeavor to close the gap.
During my reserve duty, I was exposed to yet another ugly phenomenon. We all were worried for our lives but not less about its effect on our civil life. Indeed, the law forbids to discriminate against a candidate for a position or to fire him because of his military service. However, many employers found the way to circumvent these prohibitions.
We all had to cover up for a colleague in order to enable him to show up for his work. He refrained from informing his employer about the service lest he might suffer. Another friend applied for a security position, yet was rejected when the employer found out that he served on reserve as a combat officer. He applied for another security position, this time concealing the fact that he was a graduate of an officers school, and got the job.
In a survey conducted several years ago among employers, 55% admitted that they preferred not to hire workers who still serve on reserve. It is hard to believe that reality has improved since.
There are some exceptional employers who appreciate service for the country and wish to benefit those who serve, however, they find out that they are offenders from the other side of things. Several years ago the Labour Court convicted a manpower company for referring graduates of military service or national service. In a precedent-setting decision, the court declared that such procedures discriminated against Arab and ultra-Orthodox job applicants.
We are being exposed regularly to data that reveal the economic and professional decline of youngsters who go to the army for compulsory service, all the more so for reserve duty.
Is this surprising?
Anyone who is exposed to Shemesh’s adventures can be anything but surprised.
Shemesh’s case ended positively. After the public exposure, ORT CEO Zvi Peleg declared that the dismissal was off and added, “We encourage our students and employees for a meaningful service with the IDF.”
All’s well that ends well? Not necessarily. Luckily, there are still those who are embarrassed to have fired employees because of reserve service. However, they just have to cover up the real reason for firing their workers.
Indeed, in the high percentage of employers admitting that they will not hire candidates who serve on reserve changed their answer once they were requested to give their names.
The coronavirus crisis resulted in a huge amount of employees being fired or sent on vacation without pay. This provides the employers the opportunity to choose whom they will rehire. Bitter reality proves that in most cases they will not be employees who serve on reserve.
The writer is a major (res.) commander of a patrol unit of the Artillery Corps. He is a graduate in electricity and electronic engineering and holds a master’s degree in information system management from Tel Aviv University.