A court in Israel has ruled that a company was entitled to turn down an employee’s request to work remotely.
In a ruling recently issued by the Tel Aviv District Labour Court in the case of the Middle East Pipeline Company, the district court discussed a claim lodged by an employee, who worked as a payroll accountant, that her employer discriminated against her in comparison with an equivalent employee, by not allowing her to work from home. This, according to her, was contrary to the provisions of the Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law of 1988.
The district court stated in its ruling that, as a general rule, the decision whether to allow an employee, following his or her request, to work from home, is part of the employer’s prerogative, and is at the core of the employer’s discretion. It does not constitute a right and does not form part of the employee’s working conditions.
This is because employees must devote all their time and energy during working hours to the employer’s business, which is usually done on the employer’s premises. Because of this, the district court ruled that if the employer does not see working from home as beneficial or indeed if it considers it may be a disadvantage for the business, it cannot be required to allow an employee to work from home.
The district court ruled that there was no flaw in the company’s judgement on the facts of this case when it did not approve the employee’s request to work from home, for, amongst others, the following reasons:
- The relatively short period of time for which the employee had been employed by the company (also resulting in less experience at her position).
- A low level of satisfaction with the employee’s performance.
- The fact that there was only one employee, with more experience and seniority, in the department who was allowed to work from home (and she agreed to return early to work from parental leave following a request from the employer and conditional upon working from home for a certain period).
- The fact that the employee based her request only on the closure of the education system (it was at the start the COVID19 crisis).
- The employer’s decision was examined based on the time when it was taken. The request was issued when working from home practices were not as developed as they are today (post COVID-19 challenges).
The district court also ruled that the distinction made by the company between the claimant and the other employee in the equivalent position to her was justified in light of a key difference between them: the employer’s level of satisfaction with their performance.
In conclusion, according to this ruling, working from home is not an accrued right for employees and, in general, it is not part of the working conditions that an employer is obliged to give employees. There is no provision in the law giving rise to a right to working from home arrangements (of course, unless there is any other binding source in the workplace providing such a right, such as any personal or collective agreement). Instead, the employer must consider each request regarding remote work in good faith and give weight, among other things, to the employee’s circumstances and the nature of the work and the role s/he performs.
This is the first significant court ruling by the Israeli courts regarding the right to work remotely and although the ruling is issued by the district court and therefore does not constitute a precedent, it provides an important insight on the ‘hot topic’ of remote working. We anticipate that this issue will continue to occupy the courts, as well as employers, in the coming years.
To read the full verdict (in Hebrew) click here.