Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Discrimination in Israeli Employment

Two issues have come to my attention in recent days related to discrimination in the workplace, so I thought others might benefit from considering them as well.

First is an article recently from the Jerusalem Post: http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=247862. The issue here is whether it is acceptable, legally, morally or otherwise, for companies to discriminate against job candidates because of race (in this case, Arabic).

The second time was a question raised by a reader to a job that appeared on our website, Israemploy. The job was for a religious organization, and specified that the employee must be male.

What is allowed?

In Israel, we have the Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law, 1988. This law forms the main legal basis for prohibiting discrimination in the workplace, both in the public and private spheres:

Section 2.(a)

Employers shall not discriminate between their employees or between candidates for employment because of their sexual orientation, because they are parents, because of their age, gender, race, religion, nationality, land of origin, opinion or party, in any of the following:

- hiring;
- working conditions;
- promotion;
- professional training or studies;
- discharge or severance pay;
- benefits and payments provided for employees in connection with their retirement from employment.

Yet, there may be certain exceptions in which discrimination of a sort may be permitted:

a) In relation to women, the most important of these are 'genuine' occupational qualifications, which include:

- Reasons of physiology (not enough physical strength)
- Reasons of decency or privacy
- The provision of personal services promoting welfare or education; and jobs affected by legal/religious restrictions, where customs are such that the duties could not, or could not effectively, be performed by a woman (actually, this can be relevant for men as well – for instance, mikva attendant role)

b) In the case of ethnic minorities the exceptions are:

- Dramatic performances, where the dramatis personae requires a person of a particular racial group.
- Artists or models for advertising purposes, for reasons of authenticity
- Where services are rendered for the welfare of the particular group

So, what does this all mean?

Certainly, in the case of a religious organization where the requirements of the job are such that only one particular gender can fulfill it, this type of limitation is allowed.

And what about the newspaper article example, restricting a race from jobs for non-employment specific reasons (rather nationalistic objectives)? Well, I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that the equal opportunities law was created in part to specifically restrict such instances.


  1. I my self would be interested in knowing more about religious discrimination such as many jobs will not hire torah observant Jews or promote them to higher positions because they keep shabbat.

    How can this be gotten around i once met a guy who went to a job interview with out his kipa and took off his Tzitzit as to not let that influence the employer but the employer was outright respectful of Torah observant Jews and mentioned right away he did not have to work on shabbat.

    I know there are laws where the employer is not allowed to ask if somebody keeps shabbat but obviously they have found other ways of weeding out religious employees by stating such requirements as "must be able to work weekends" instead of saying "must work on shabbat".

  2. Many people have told me that age discrimination is rampant in Israel. When starting in a new career in your 50's for example, don't even think that a large company would hire you. They want 20somethings. Ads say "young, vibrant company" to signal that no 60 year old need apply. The advantages to having some depth in a company are many: An "older" new employee is bound to stay put and not be thinking of "advancing his/her career." An "older" new employee obviously has experience and hopefully wisdom which can be invaluable. An "older" new employee may be drawing a pension and doesn't need to get paid as much as a younger employee. Unfortunately, the reality is that there is age discrimination in Israel and in other countries as well.

  3. The law does say that employers should not discriminate between employees and or candidates for employment based on race, gender, age, or religion. In interviews, interviewers aren't even allowed to ask what one's religious affiliation is. So I think that the government has done probably just "okay" to give everyone a chance to land a job regardless.

    But when it comes to positions that happen to revolve around a specific race, religion, etc., then that could be the exception.

    For instance, social welfare centers geared toward the empowerment of women are more likely to hire, well, women, rather than men. Groups focused on preserving the culture of certain indigenous tribes will want to hire candidates who can trace their lineage from those specific tribes.

    So it all depends on the job description. Anything beyond that line is discrimination by the employer.