The High Court of Justice ruled on Monday that Israelis will not be able to use their allotted sick days to cover time spent in quarantine, which is mandated by the government for those who have come into contact with a coronavirus carrier.
During the first wave of the pandemic, the Health Ministry issued a sweeping order requiring businesses to allow quarantined employees to use their sick days for the two-week isolation period.
But a group of small business owners petitioned the top court, demanding that they be absolved of responsibility from paying for time that the government’s quarantine policy is ordering their employees to take off.
The High Court ordered that the original Health Ministry policy remain in place until September 30. The government will have until then to find an alternative means to cover those quarantine days off. If it fails to do so, Israelis ordered into isolation will be forced to use their vacation days, though many only receive 12 a year.
Explaining its decision to suspend the Health Ministry’s directive on employers, the three-member panel of judges said concerns that someone may have contracted an illness is not the same as being sick, and therefore, employers cannot be expected to cover such time off.
“Quarantine is not a disease, and the burden of paying wages to tens of thousands of workers in isolation [falling on employers] is inconceivable,” said one of the petitioners, Manufacturers’ Association chairman Ron Tomer in a statement.
“The state is responsible for the quarantine requirements, so it should be the one to fund them as well, not the employers, nor the workers,” he added.
In a separate response, the Histadrut labor union called on the government to find an alternative solution to prevent the onus for payment of time lost in quarantine from falling on the employees.
The guidelines on self-isolation for those exposed to virus carriers and those who arrive in the country from abroad is a mandatory 14 days.
Last week, the Health Ministry announced that it was easing the quarantine terms for recovering coronavirus patients, some of whom can leave home 10 days after diagnosis.
Under the new rules, patients who were diagnosed with the virus will be considered cured after spending 10 days in quarantine from the moment they first showed symptoms, plus an additional three days during which they must show no symptoms — typically a high fever and coughing or breathing difficulties.
Patients who do not know exactly when they began experiencing symptoms will be required to spend 10 days in quarantine from the moment they were informed of a positive test result for the virus, and then can leave isolation after three more days without symptoms.
Those who are diagnosed with the virus, but are asymptomatic can leave quarantine after 10 days, the ministry said.
In all cases, no further test for the virus is necessary, although the ministry noted that a doctor’s authorization is still required to indicate that the patients do not have virus symptoms.
Those who have been exposed to a coronavirus patient or return from trips abroad are still required to isolate for 14 days, the ministry stressed.
Previously, quarantine for those confirmed to have the coronavirus was at least 14 days and required a second test to confirm the patients no longer have the virus.