Wringing my hands as an Israeli employer

Regardless of reason, a terminated employee is entitled to severance equal to one month of pay for each year he or she was employed.

workplace 311 (photo credit: Veronica Therese)
workplace 311
(photo credit: Veronica Therese)
I had to fire somebody today.
Don’t get me wrong – she deserved it. Warning after warning, behavior modification meetings, discussions about communication, professionalism, responsiveness, availability, ethics – all the basic human resources talk I’ve been doling out my entire career. I’ve let go over 100 people in my 15 years in HR. It hardly phases me emotionally anymore – in fact, in my former American corporate life, it got to the point where I’d travel around the country laying people off. I walked into a Miami branch office once and everybody turned around and walked away from me – I was like the Grim Reaper.
Needless to say, if I am letting you go, you know it’s coming and there’s good reason.
That said, my foray into Israeli employment law is fairly new. The company I help run has been established as an Israeli entity for two years, so I am (like any good Israeli entrepreneur) learning as I go. Since my formal background is in headhunting, I am a very selective recruiter – this plus a corporate employee relations background (trained at union negotiations in New York – no easy task) equals rarely having to let someone go these days. I know only too well the cost of turnover, so I’m exceptionally picky when it comes to hiring.
Given all of this, the employee in question simply could not perform as expected and had to be terminated. When I looked into the law and consulted both my partner and our attorney, I was advised that regardless of reason, a terminated employee is entitled to severance equal to one month of pay for each year he or she was employed. We needed to pay her out an entire month of salary, even though she botched the job multiple times and begged me to fire her.
We are a small company. Losing several thousand shekels is a big deal. We researched further, to no avail. We were told several times that unless some major faux pas could be proven (theft, violence) we had no choice but to pay the severance, cut our losses and move on.
This same week, another of our employees called me on my cell while I was checking out at Rami Levi. I was in the express line, balancing my toddler and a pack of ice cream bars, when she called to apologize. I couldn’t hear her well so I asked for clarification (she was a great employee, why was she apologizing?) Turns out she was expressing her regret over having to resign.
Doctors had found a tumor, and advised her to eliminate all stress from her life immediately so she can focus on recovery. She’s apologizing to me that she is being forced to quit. Horror-stricken, I speak a bit further to my 20-something mother of two employee and express to her that we’ll do everything we can to support her.
I try to wrap my head around this situation and realize quickly that the best I can do is to reassign her clients immediately so she can clear her mind.
I set to work managing logistics, other employees’ availability, making calls, contacting clients, and then it hits me – she is resigning.
According to the law, she gets nothing from our company – no severance like the woman we just fired.
Both of these employees have been with our firm for over a year.
Both work from home and log their time on the honor system.
One got fired, and one got cancer.
The one who got cancer, got nothing.
I understand that the laws are written to protect employees and make it difficult and expensive for employers to terminate. I appreciate that such measures are taken to ensure that companies skirting the edges of the law cannot act unjustly. Let’s examine the ethics of my week, though, as an Israeli employer.
Our goal as a company is to legally employ professional Anglos in Israel. They work on a flexible schedule, in English, from home, and most of our employees seek this type of opportunity so that they can be home with their kids in the afternoons while earning a living wage, like me. I’m proud of what we do and I’m dedicated to it.
Debating the merits of firing the cancer-ridden employee, I considered how to legally provider her a monetary package equivalent to the employee who embarrassed me in front of my clients and disappeared for two weeks, unannounced.
Is firing her the right thing to do? What kind of a business am I running if I’m firing someone wrestling with a scary diagnosis? The juxtaposition of these two simultaneous situations is tearing me apart. I can only assume that the systems in place, National Insurance and the like, will take care of her... but as an ethical individual, a businessperson, a manager, a mother, a daughter and a Jew – I am struggling.
The writer is the managing director of Secretary in Israel and a mother of three living near Jerusalem.