Law on the Right to Sit in Employment
A number of places of employment exist where it is demanded that employees spend their working hours in constant motion or in a standing position (or both), beyond the requirements of their positions. These demands are based on the concept that employees who are in motion or in a standing position when carrying on conversations create an image of a lively business - awake, aware, energetic and in a constant state of readiness to welcome the client and be attentive to the client's needs. In reality, this means that employees are often demanded to act constantly as if they were extras in an advertisement for their employer.
This phenomenon is particularly common in shops, at reception desks and on television shows. While employers are entitled to design their businesses according to a particular image and to require their employees to fit in, there are additional considerations, as follows:
- Employers are not entitled to use their employees in an unlawful manner.
- Employees cannot be forced to perform actions that are detrimental to their health (eg, prolonged periods of standing) and are unnecessary for the performance of their position. Employers must use all means possible to ensure the least possible injury to their employees' health.
- In the balance of interests between creating an image (through using employees in constant motion or in a constant standing position) and the human dignity of the employee for whom being in such position is difficult, human dignity prevails. This was emphasised by the members of Parliament who promoted the law in Israel.
- The requirement for employees to be in constant motion or in a constant standing position may also constitute age discrimination, since older employees may find it difficult to comply with such a demand.
Law on the Right to Sit in Employment
In 2007 the Law on the Right to Sit in Employment was passed in Israel. The law obliges the employer to "provide the employee in the place of employment with a seat for work" and forbids "preventing an employee from sitting during work, unless the regular performance of the work does not enable sitting". The law additionally obliges employers to supply their employees with "proper chairs, which have back support, in a sufficient number and in good condition, for sitting during breaks in work".
In addition, the law empowers the courts to impose exemplary damages of up to IS200,000, even if the employee has not suffered pecuniary injury, and to issue injunctions against breaches of the law. The law also grants a right of claim to the unions. The right of employees to sit and to be provided with proper seats falls under the right to proper working conditions, the purpose of which is to "ensure the employee's well-being, health and fulfillment of the employee's human dignity".
The damages that the courts are empowered to impose on employees are intended to deter employers from breaching the law.(1) The courts have also ruled that the best way to promote the purpose of the law is for the unions to bring collective action - although the right belongs to employees as a group, the employee population that is most commonly injured as a result of the breach of the law is the working poor. Such employees have few employment alternatives and are therefore likely to be deterred from suing their employers for breach of the law.
A recent case demonstrates the need for the law.(2) A claim was filed by a former saleswoman in a clothes store. Not only did the owner of the clothes store renege on the obligation to supply appropriate seats as required by the law, the owner also forbade the salespersons from sitting - they were forced to work, eat and rest in a standing position. A salesperson who had been detected sitting during working hours, via cameras installed in the shop, was reprimanded for doing so, despite the fact that:
- there were no clients in the shop at the time; and
- there were no tasks remaining that required movement.
The court imposed significant damages on the employer.
It is hoped that employers' awareness of their obligations under the law will increase and such phenomena will soon be a thing of the past.
For further information on this topic please contact Shoshana Gavish at S Horowitz & Co by telephone (+972 3 567 0700), fax (+972 3 566 0974) or email ([email protected]).
(1) Collective Labour Appeal (National Labour Court) 8/17.