By Eli Lichtenstein
Israeli law does not allow an employer to unilaterally fire an employee at will. Rather, there are legal safeguards for the employee that must be overcome first. One such required protection is the holding of an employment termination hearing (שימוע לפני פיטורים). The hearing is not simply a one-sided debriefing performed as a formality, but instead allows for the positions of both parties to be evenly evaluated before the termination decision is made. All employees, part-time and full-time workers in all sectors, are legally entitled to a pre-termination meeting, regardless of the amount of time employed.
Before the hearing, the employee must be notified in writing so that he or she can adequately prepare for it. This advanced notification must be delivered at least one day before the hearing, with the exact duration of notification time depending on individual circumstances. The employee has a right to bring and be represented by an attorney, and a union member may bring a union representative as well. The employer must account for the availability of the employee’s representatives when scheduling the hearing. An adequately informed worker who fails to appear at the hearing forfeits the right to have his or her arguments heard. A failure to appear however does not automatically imply voluntary acceptance of the termination decision by the employee – a good-faith decision must still be made by the employer.
The meeting itself must function as a legitimate hearing of facts, with the employer and employee both presenting their arguments for and against termination. The employer must present a valid reason for the firing that does not violate any applicable law, contract, or collective agreement. For instance, an employee cannot be fired because of discrimination against a protected characteristic, such as ethnicity, sex, or union membership status. An employee on sick leave can also not be fired, unless notice was given before the leave began. Any claims about the necessity of termination must be substantiated with documentation or other evidence made available to the employee. The employee is allowed to bring relevant documentation in support of their claims as well. When making the final decision, the employer is required to consider the arguments of the employee in good faith. The proceedings of the hearing must be documented and made available to the employee. Failure to satisfy any of these requirements could lead to the employer being ordered by the labor court to compensate or even rehire the fired employee. In addition to the severance hearing, other steps must be taken before being able to legally fire the employee, including the submission of a written letter of termination and the provision of severance pay where applicable.