The Ministry of Health is constantly updating the regulations relating to self and imposed isolation due to the expansion of Coronavirus (Covid-19) on the one hand, regulating as to who is subject to the compulsory isolation, and on the other hand, regulating the conduct guidelines for those already in isolation. These regulations are updated on a regular basis, widening the scope of influence and as a result, affecting the regular course of business. Accordingly, the workplace needs to adjust itself to daily new realities.
For the purpose of this article we will begin by outlining the main course of action dictated by the government. We shall then proceed by providing guidelines to employers on how to deal with specific matters.
On the 4th of February 2020, the Director General of the Ministry of Health issued a directive stating that an employer may not demand from an employee who is subject to isolation, to work, or even allow him on the workplace premises. This directive stands tall also in cases where the employee independently requests to continue working.
In addition, the directive states that any employee who is subject to isolation, must inform his or her employer promptly. When such notice is given, the employer is not permitted to terminate employment on the sole premise that the employee will be absent from work during the isolation period.
For this matter, the term "Employee" is broadly defined by the law and consists of all types of employees including volunteers and service providers. The term does not distinguish between those who maintain a contractual relationship and those who do not. In other words, the directive will cover contracted employees as well as private service providers.
In order to reduce economical damage, on March 21st 2020, the Minister of Finance called on employers who can enable work from home, to do so. Certainly, as opposed to the Ministry of Health guidelines, the announcement is not considered to be a mandatory provision.
On the 16th March 2020, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the private sector to reduce the number of employees by 70% starting March 18th 2020, noting that companies employing ten employees or less are exempt from this ruling. Moreover, all employers must ensure that remaining employees remain at least two meters apart from one another. Employers are to provide a hygienic workplace. However, we have yet to receive specific guidelines on how to carry this order out.
Following this directive, the Prime Minister encourages employers to proceed with their regular course of business by either requiring employees to work from home, or in alternating shifts.
When dealing with the existing and foreseeable economic challenges due to the spread of Covid-19, employers may turn to the following options: Granting employees unpaid leave so as to reduce payrolls, or laying off employees altogether.
Granting an employee unpaid leave is subject to the provisions of the Annual Vacation Act. Accordingly, when implementing unpaid leave for a period exceeding seven days, the employer must provide the employee adequate
notice of at least fourteen days(14days). Furthermore, the imposed vacation leave will be subject to the number of vacation days the employee has accumulated to his/her credit, taking into consideration imminent upcoming national holidays such as Passover and Independence Day.
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