Israel’s vaccination rates tops the world, with its free distribution to all citizens via HMOs and its incentive system to reopen access to certain services for those who get vaccinated. But not all Israelis intend to take the vaccine. As the country edges closer to opening up fully, this raises an unprecedented dilemma – how can they return to work?
As of this week, over 4.6 million Israelis have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, with 3.3 million have also already received the second dose. This has allowed the Ministry of Health to announce a lifting of restrictions for those who have received the second shot, which includes access to gyms, theatres, sports venues and hotels. Access to these services is permitted only with a Green Pass – a certificate proving that the carrier is either vaccinated or has recovered from COVID-19.
“There are no, and will be no sanctions against those who choose not to get vaccinated. Our access to the vaccinations is a privilege, and we encourage everyone to make use of it. However, those who choose not to get vaccinated will have to wait until our overall situation has improved to enjoy a return to normal,” said Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein in a press conference last week.
However, the lifting of restrictions has raised a new, unprecedented question: what to do with employees who are not vaccinated and are essential for the running of business? The government has yet to find a solution for the problem, with some employers refusing to take back workers who refuse to get vaccinated. This has drawn criticism from workers who have chosen not to get vaccinated, claiming that a refusal to employ unvaccinated workers amounts to discrimination.
This has given rise to a legal debate over whether or not employers can demand their employees get vaccinated as a condition for their return to work. Last week, Attorney General Raz Hazera said that the decision over whether or not an employer can demand vaccination from employers should be decided on a case-to-case basis. Hazera stressed that the government has been developing a legal framework for vaccinations, but no guidelines have been published yet.
According to a recent study conducted at Rupin Academic Centre, 61% of vaccinated Israelis believe that the government should impose certain restrictions on those who choose not to receive the vaccination, while 54% of vaccinated Israelis believe that vaccination should be mandatory by law. Unsurprisingly, 98% of those who have not been vaccinated believe that there should be no restrictions on those who are not vaccinated.
Last week, in an attempt to reach an agreement which would enable businesses to reopen despite the lack of official guidelines, the Histadrut and employers’ associations published a list of recommended guidelines for businesses, which they called on the government to adopt.
The guidelines would allow non-vaccinated workers to return to work, under the condition that they get tested for COVID-19 every 72 hours, to ensure that they do not carry the virus. In cases where this is not possible, either due to an employee’s refusal or if tests are unavailable, the model would have employers work from home as much as possible, or transfer the employee to jobs which do not involve high exposure to the public.
However, both organizations have stressed the importance of the government taking action to reach a legal solution that will allow businesses to open despite some employees not being vaccinated. They have also called on the government to help implement the interim model by adapting and expanding virus testing to the needs of workplaces which will be necessary for the normal functioning of businesses.
“We call on all employers to adopt these measures, until official guidelines are proposed by the government,” said Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David, and called for the government to take steps to allow employers to comply with the guidelines.