Lawyer: Ruling 'will have an effect on the entire economy'

In precedent, court rules school can bar unvaccinated, untested worker

Labor court defends right of schools to stop employees who refuse to get inoculated from coming to work unless they take regular COVID-19 tests

An Israeli medic waits during an event to encourage the vaccination of young Israelis at a vaccination center in Holon, Feb. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
An Israeli medic waits during an event to encourage the vaccination of young Israelis at a vaccination center in Holon, Feb. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

In a landmark ruling, a Tel Aviv labor court ruled Sunday that a school can prevent unvaccinated employees who refuse to have regular COVID-19 tests from coming to work, determining that the children’s safety takes precedence over staff’s rights.

The ruling came in the case of a teaching assistant at a school in the town of Tzur Yigal in central Israel, who appealed against the local council’s decision to demand that all education staff members either get vaccinated or take regular coronavirus tests as a condition for coming to work.

The court ruled that the teaching assistant, Sigal Avishai, will not go back to work and won’t receive payment.

Judge Meirav Kleiman ruled that in weighing Avishai’s right to privacy and personal autonomy against the right of students, parents and staff to avoid the risk of getting COVID-19, the balance “tips clearly” in favor of the latter.

Illustrative — Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks, as they return to school on May 3, 2020. (Gershon Elinon/Flash90)

Kleiman said her decision stemmed from “the existing information on the vaccine’s efficiency in preventing infections, and after weighing the obvious and immediate harm that could be done to the students — kids with special needs who cannot adhere to distancing rules — and many third parties including parents and school employees, if they get infected.”

She said that while requiring the COVID-19 tests from the employee was unpleasant, the harm done is “relatively low,” as is the violation of her privacy in that she has to disclose personal medical information.

“This is a welcome precedent that will have an effect on the entire economy,” commented Naama Shabtay Bahar, a lawyer specializing in employment laws who represented the Kochav Ya’ir-Tzur Yigal Local Council.

“The labor court struck the correct balance between workers’ rights and the interest of the general public,” she told the Globes business news website. “Every employee has the right to vaccinate or not. But every employee also has to bear responsibility for that decision. The responsibility definitely shouldn’t be placed on the employers, whose goal is to protect their employees and the general public served by them.”

An Israeli man receives a COVID-19 vaccine shot at a mobile Magen David Adom vaccination station at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on February 22, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Earlier this month, the High Court issued a temporary injunction barring the Health Ministry from handing local authorities information on those who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine. The court also instructed state bodies and health providers to explain why legislation allowing the ministry to do so has not been scrapped.

The controversial law, which was approved last month by the Knesset, authorizes the Health Ministry to transfer data to municipalities and the Education Ministry for a three-month period. The legislation is aimed at encouraging the unvaccinated to be immunized and prohibits the use of the information for other purposes.

In their decision, the judges cited the laws “harming of the constitutional right to privacy” guaranteed in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Magen David Adom medical worker tests a man for the coronavirus in Jerusalem on March 18, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Health Ministry data published Sunday morning showed that more than 4.5 million Israelis have now received both vaccine doses, with the country continuing to lead the world by far in inoculations per capita.

The number of active cases — which topped 80,000 just two months ago — stood at 18,309, of whom 561 were in serious condition, including 256 defined as critical.

The death toll grew to 6,085.

Just 285 new cases were identified Saturday with a positive rate of 1.7 percent — the lowest in almost four months — although testing levels generally go down significantly during weekends.

The virus’s basic reproduction number, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, dropped further to 0.62. Any figure under 1 means the outbreak is abating. The figure represents the situation as of 10 days ago.

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