Israel has put in place very strict measures to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. This article describes them and gives guidance for employers on meeting their obligations and caring for employees in this context.
- Safety and hygiene
The Ministry of Health is continuously updating its instructions and guidance on the containment of Covid-19. It has emphasised the simple but valuable advice to engage in careful hygiene practices (such as proper handwashing) and to avoid shaking hands. We suggest that you consult with a professional regarding any additional hygiene measures that may be recommended, in light of the specific circumstances of each workplace.
All workplaces are recommended to adopt hygiene practices such as consider scheduling more frequent cleaning of the work premises and its facilities (phones, keyboards, etc.), and making sterilization products, such as tissues, hand sanitizers and alcohol disinfectants, available to the employees.
All employees (a term that is broadly defined in this context and is not limited to employment relations) who are subject to Home Quarantine obligations (whether they are sick or not) as well as all employees who have a fever of over 38°C may not be permitted to enter the workplace at all, under law. We also recommend that any other sick employees (unrelated to Covid-19) are not permitted to enter the workplace.
It is extremely important for employers to keep informed, and to keep their employees informed in these challenging times. Government guidelines are constantly being updated and refined, in an attempt to battle further infection and spreading of Covid-19. Employers should consider appointing a designated employee or team to manage any preparations or actions taken in relation to Covid-19, and inform the employees of the identity of the representative/s.
Employers must not allow employees (a term which is widely defined, as noted above) in Home Quarantine (see below) to enter the workplace, or to allow entry to any employees with a fever of over 38°C.
Employees refusing to enter Home Quarantine will be in violation of the governmental order, and may be charged with endangering the public. There is a national hotline for reporting violations of the government guidelines.
In light of the above, it is legitimate and necessary to ask employees whether they have recently travelled abroad or are otherwise required to be in Home Quarantine, as well as ask them to declare that they do not have a fever. As employees generally should not work while sick, it is also legitimate to forbid any sick employees (even if they have other symptoms) from entering the workplace.
Privacy is very important in Israel and although the employer has a general duty of care towards its employees, privacy rights may not always support conducting health related tests. Under general law, these tests are only permitted if there is a legal or contractual basis for imposing them. Having said that, at this unique time and bearing in mind the new obligation not to allow employees with a high fever to enter the workplace, we are of the view that employers can introduce voluntary temperature checks.
All privacy rules should be upheld, and in particular any information provided for the purpose of containing Covid-19, must only be used for that purpose.
Despite this, it is not possible to force employees to be tested, as long as they abide by the government guidelines.
- School closure, homeworking, quarantine and closing the workplace
Mandated Home Quarantine
Israel requires the following groups to be in Home Quarantine, and inform the Ministry of Health in a set procedure:
- Anyone returned from abroad in the last 14 days (from any country; this list initially only contained a few countries, and was consistently expanded in line with the spread of Covid-19, until reaching the current guideline which refers to all countries).
- Anyone who has been, or, a doctor has determined that he/she has been, in ‘close contact’ (a term defined by law) with a person who is a confirmed patient.
Home Quarantine is required for a period of 14 days as of the date of arrival in Israel or the close contact with a confirmed patient. The required quarantine period may be extended if the individual starts to exhibit actual signs of illness.
Public and work-related events
It is currently prohibited to hold international conferences (an organised gathering involving people from one or more countries other than Israel) in Israel.
It is also prohibited to hold an organised gathering (including, sport events, conferences, presentations, and performances), of over 100 people (this number may change), unless the gathering receives legal approval or special permission in accordance with the Governmental Order.
The Ministry of Health has made the following additional recommendations:
- Avoid gatherings in one space. If gatherings are held they should be as limited as possible, and no more than 100 people.
- Private events such as weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other events can only be attended by up to 100 people.
- Medical personnel responsible for treating patients may only gather for work purposes, and in groups of 15 or under.
- Sports events will be held without an audience. To the extent that players or judges from abroad participate, they must follow the specific instructions of the Ministry of Health for sports.
- Stores, malls and shopping centers are responsible for ensuring there is no crowding and must regulate occupancy at their premises, at any given moment, in order to avoid crowding and take care to maintain a reasonable distance between people.
Work from home
Currently the Ministry of Health has recommend that:
‘As part of preparing for the next steps, employers should prepare and increase, to the extent possible, the capacity and arrangements for remote work of employees.’
It is highly recommended to consider remote working arrangements, and make the necessary preparations for this such as consulting the organisation’s insurance agent regarding any potential ramifications, consulting IT advisors as to connectivity and instructing employees to take work related material and equipment home at the end of every day.
Employees on mandated Home Quarantine may not be obliged to work from home (since they are on sick leave), however, if they are not actually sick (but rather in Home Quarantine as a precautionary measure), the employer can request that they work from home. If they do, then it will not be considered sick leave.
On 12 March 2020 the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education announced that schools will be closed for a month. It was also announced that kindergartens and special education facilities will continue to operate as usual. We recommend further monitoring these instructions.
According to the governmental order, absence due to obligatory Home Quarantine will be deemed as sick leave, and entitle employees to sick leave pay (as long as they have accrued sick leave days in their favour.
Payment for absence due to sick leave under general law is as follows:
- Day one: no entitlement to payment;
- Days two and three: 50% of salary;
- Day four onwards: 100% of their salary.
Many workplaces have more beneficial sick pay arrangements.
The government has issued a comprehensive medical certificate for these absences, which also covers children’s home quarantine (subject to the legal rules).
In an attempt to avoid individuals in Home Quarantine from leaving their home and approaching public places such as health centres, employers have been instructed that they may not request that employees provide a personal certificate under these circumstances.
It is important to thoroughly assess the need for any travel abroad. It is important to adhere to all travel warnings and bans, as updated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Ministry of Health. Keep in mind, that upon return, any travellers will be required to enter into Home Quarantine. Please also keep in mind that flights are scarce these days, with many airline cancellations, and that foreign citizens will not necessarily be allowed to enter Israel.
Restrictions on entry into Israel
There are very extensive restrictions in place on entry into Israel on top of the 14 days of Home Quarantine upon any return.
According to a circular issued by the Population and Immigration Authority, the following restrictions apply:
- All non-Israel citizens or non-residents of Israel will be barred from entering Israel under any circumstances (whether by air, sea or land).
- However, Foreign citizens or residents with a work visa will be permitted to enter Israel subject to receipt of an approval from the Israeli authorities (for which the foreign citizens will also be required to prove the ability to be in Home Quarantine for 14 days).
- Foreign citizens or residents arriving from the following countries will not be permitted to enter the country under any circumstances (even if they have a work visa): China, Macau, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Egypt.
Healthcare workers are also prohibited from travelling internationally. Additional restrictions apply to other public service employees.
We recommend that travellers keep up to date with all the latest information on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website page ‘Recommendations for Overseas Travelers’, as well as the Population and Immigration Authority’s website.
Employers have a legal obligation to maintain a discrimination-free workplace, and must ensure they do not implement any differential treatment on the basis of a protected ground, such as (under the circumstances), race, ethnicity, place of residence or place of origin. The law also protects individuals from being discriminated against the basis of a disability or illness.
Any actions in the workplace must be conducted in a general manner, and avoid targeting specific employees without a reasonable basis. It is, however, important to stress that differential treatment due to an employer following the governmental guidelines in light of the situation (such as differential treatment of those returning from China at the beginning of the crisis), does not constitute discrimination, but rather fulfillment of a legal requirement.
- Reporting to the authorities (when and what to report)
Private information regarding health and other issues is being shared with employers in the context of the coronavirus epidemic. It is important that employers remember that this private information is conveyed to them for a specific purpose, and must be used for this purpose only. All privacy rules must be followed.
Employees must report that they are in Home Quarantine themselves, according to the procedure set out by the Ministry of Health, by filling out an online form or calling the health call centre on *5400. This is not the employer’s responsibility.
- Advice from government/authorities
The various government authorities (the Ministry of Health, the Population and Immigration Authority and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), are continuously updating their guidelines and instructions on the containment of Covid-19 and the prevention of its spread, as well as the rules on entry into Israel, and prohibiting organised gatherings.
It is extremely important that employers keep informed, and keep their employees informed, of the ongoing changes in the main guidelines, especially in relation to Home Quarantine, entry into Israel, travel warnings and recommendations.
- As of March 10, 2020, the Government Employment Service and the National Insurance Institute have made their requirements for receiving unemployment benefits more flexible, in circumstances in which employees have been placed on unpaid leave by their employer due to the spread of Covid-19.
- These are exceptional times, which require exceptional measures. Actions that are more stringent than the government guidelines, may be considered reasonable, but will ultimately be examined based on the circumstances. This will include the nature of the workplace (such as, whether employees work in an open space or whether the position requires visits to hospitals).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.