Israel's national lottery announced on Wednesday that it would terminate employees who refuse to be vaccinated for COVID-19. It is the first employer to announce such a decision.
The chairman of Mifal HaPayis, a government owned public sector company, informed his staff on Tuesday of the move. "Health is paramount," Avigdor Yitzhaki apparently told the staff.
Yitzhaki, who had served as director general of the Prime Minister's Office under Ariel Sharon in the early 2,000s, told Ynet in an interview that his 300 employees come in direct contact with the general public and it is therefore unsafe to employ unvaccinated staff.
"There is no question in my mind," he said. "All of our employees, without exception will have been administered two doses of the vaccine," he said, adding that most understand the seriousness of the decision and are willing to receive the jabs.
"As the authority responsible for my people's health, I cannot allow anyone who is not vaccinated to enter the company's premises. I certainly do not intent to award anyone by permitting those who have not received the shots to work from home," he said.
Yitzhaki said employees will first be put on unpaid leave and later terminated. "It is everyone's personal right to refuse the vaccines and to risk illness but there can be no right to put the health of others at risk. That would be terrible," he said.
"I've warned my employees this decision was coming," he said. "My announcement was received with applause and only a small number of staff members persist in their resistance to receive the vaccines."
Other employers took a less conclusive approach, insisting on daily or twice-weekly coronavirus tests for unvaccinated staff before they could enter their places of work, but Yitzhaki insists that would not be enough.
Shufrasal, Israel's largest food retailer, informed its employees in a letter last week that it would demand those who have not received the coronavirus vaccine to submit to regular coronavirus tests or be terminated.
The company wrote that as of April 4, 2021 only employees who can show they had received the vaccine, had recovered from the virus or had tested negative for COVID at least 72 hours prior, would be allowed to work. The company added that testing must be done outside working hours.
"The decision was taken because company employees come in constant contact with the public. We can offer staff the option of unpaid leave if they refuse all other options but the alternative would be the beginning of a termination process," the letter said.
Some customers supported the move but others said they would boycott the company’s stores in protest because of what they see as a violation of human rights.
Other retailers also considered taking the same measures, though most refrained from expressing an intent to fire staff.
Matan Gutman, Ynet legal analyst, said there was no legal recourse that enables employers to terminate staff who refuse to get inoculated against COVID.
"There is a ruling by the High Labor Court that prevents employers even from compelling figure printed identification, let alone demanding that they agree to have a vaccine administered," he said. "That is the law of the land which can be changed by the legislator."