In light of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and the continued attempts to prevent its arrival and spread in Israel, the Israeli Health Ministry instructions are becoming more and more stringent on a daily basis. As a result, various questions and dilemmas rise amongst our customers in relation to the extent of awareness and preparedness required by employers regarding their employees. Such dilemmas and questions are whether a worker can be required to work from home while in solitary confinement? Can an employer prohibit an employee from travelling to a foreign country declared as requiring quarantine upon return to Israel? Can an employee’s decision to travel to a foreign country requiring quarantine, despite an employer’s directive, be recognised as cause for disciplinary action which could be grounds for termination of employment? … and more.
Currently, no clear answers are available. Nonetheless, seeing the rapid spread of the Coronavirus and the rising alerts by the Israeli Ministry of Health, we consider it appropriate to bring to your attention the latest and most recent publications in relation to the virus, which are relevant to the workplace.
Who should stay in quarantine for 14 days?
With effect as of March 9, at 8pm, any person returning to Israel following that time, from any destination abroad, is required to enter quarantine for 14 days immediately upon return. Moreover, any person who has previously returned from Austria, Italy, Andorra, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Egypt, Macau, China, Singapore, San Marino, Spain, France, South Korea, Switzerland or Thailand, as well as any person who had a flight connection in south Korea or Italy, must remain in quarantine for 14 days upon return to Israel.
Any person who has been in the vicinity of a Corona carrier or patient must also complete a 14-day quarantine period.
Policy towards foreign citizens arriving in Israel
It is also of note that, beginning on 12 March 2020, non-Israeli citizens arriving in Israel will only be allowed to enter the country if they are able to prove that they have facilities suitable for quarantine. Nonetheless, the above is not applicable to foreign citizens of China, Macau, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Egypt, as citizens of these countries are not allowed to enter Israel at this time as per recent directives of the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority.
Employers’ responsibilities in relation to employees who are in quarantine
Pursuant to the Public Health Order (New Corona Virus 2019) (Instructions to Employers of an Employee under quarantine) (Temporary Order), 5780-2020: (a) an employer of an employee in quarantine shall not require or permit entry of such employee to the workplace; (b) an employer will not terminate the employment of an employee under quarantine solely because of such employee’s absence from the workplace during the period of quarantine; (c) the employee must provide the employer with a comprehensive Sickness Note and Declaration upon entry into quarantine regarding the obligation to stay under quarantine and its duration; (d) these obligations and directives apply not only to the employee but also to those who provide services to and volunteer with the employer.
What about employees’ absence because of quarantine?
The law in relation to quarantine is identical to the law in relation to any sick leave. The comprehensive Sickness Note and Declaration that the employee shall present to the employer will be used as a sickness note for the period of quarantine. Accordingly, the employee will be paid sick leave duly and accordingly to the employee’s sick leave quota (no payment for the first day of sick leave, payment of 50% of the employee’s salary for the second and third days in quarantine, and full payment of the employee’s salary from the fourth day of quarantine and any day required thereafter).
What about employees who do not have accumulated sick days?
We recommend adhering to the company’s policy as it is in this regard. An employee can also be offered a deduction from the vacation days quota or alternatively consider other solutions such as work from home during the quarantine period, as long as the type and nature of work permits it and there is suitable infrastructure.
Regarding work from home, we note that for those of our clientele who already have a work from home policy that relates, inter alia, to the means of remuneration and the degree of recognition of working hours, and in particular in relation to overtime hours, we recommend examining the compatibility of the current period of preparedness and raised awareness to such policy. This is also relevant for employers who have not yet applied a home-based work policy who should also abide by current period’s instructions.
Extending the Limitations on Professional Conferences – Ministry of Health guidelines of March 4, 2020
- Employees of the public health system are forbidden from leaving Israel at this time;
- Crowds of more than 2,000 people are prohibited;
- International conferences are not to be held or attended in Israel;
- Employees who returned from abroad cannot attend any assemblies of more than 100 people; and
- Employees who attended international conferences must be in quarantine for 14 days.
As far as any other questions arise in relation to an employer’s abilities and obligations to impose restrictions on the employees for concern of the virus’ spread, it seems that currently there are no definitive answers, so that each case would have to be examined on its merits.
However, as far as employers are able to impose restrictions on professional meetings with those who returned from any of the destinations that require quarantine or attending international conferences, it appears that limiting the employee from such meetings or conferences is legitimate and it might even rise to be the employer’s responsibility and duty of care towards its employees during their work.
The current situation is the first time that Israel faces a public-medical emergency. Therefore, our recommendation at this time is for workplaces and employers to prepare as much as possible. In the meantime, we recommend that, among other things, employers will make it possible for employees to work from their place of residence and ensure suitable infrastructure, provided that the employees’ health allows it.
We will be happy to answer any additional questions you may have.
Eti Avnery, Adv.
Head of the Labor Law department