To mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of Israel's Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law, we take a look at the key features of Israel's approach to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as some steps employers should take to comply with the Law.
This March, the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law 1998 celebrated 25 years. The passage of this law by the Knesset was an inspiring moment, with women from all parties uniting in order to ensure the approval of this unprecedented law. The Law, which is still considered one of the most comprehensive and advanced in this field, provides a clear definition of sexual harassment, places a number of obligations on employers and also states how complaints of sexual harassment or retaliation against those reporting it must be handled.
The Law has been amended several times since 1998 in response to changing times. Israel's Labour Courts also play an active role in determining how the Law should be interpreted and implemented, and not a year goes by without important case-law developments in this area.
While this update cannot cover all aspects of this complex law, we can provide the following important insights and tips.
The Purpose of the Law
The Law prohibits sexual harassment in order to protect individuals' dignity, freedom and privacy, and to promote gender equality. In Israel, sexual harassment law applies equally to all genders.
How is Sexual Harassment defined?
Sexual harassment is defined as:
- Repeated overtures or references of a sexual nature, if the other party has expressed a lack of interest;
- Blackmail of a sexual nature;
- Making a derogatory reference to another person's sex, gender or sexuality, including to his or her sexual orientation;
- Doing any act intended for sexual gratification or degradation without another person's consent;
- Publishing a photograph, recording or video focusing on a person's sexuality in circumstances where the person may be humiliated or degraded, without their consent.
The prohibition on publishing harassing photographs, recordings and videos was only added to the Law a few years ago. These new forms of harassment have become more common with advances in technology and our increasing use of social media.
In cases involving sexual overtures or references of a sexual nature, the behaviour must be repeated in order to be considered sexual harassment under the Law. Other forms of harassment, such as derogatory references concerning another person's sex or sexuality, can count even if they occur only once.
Relationships of Subordination or Dependence
As mentioned already, some conduct only counts as harassment under the Law if the other party shows a lack of interest or consent. However, where a relationship of subordination or dependence exists, the harassed party does not have to show their lack of interest to repeated sexual overtures. The Law recognises that when a relationship of subordination exists, the harassed party may be afraid to show his or her true feelings about conduct by a superior.
Recent case-law has determined that, in circumstances involving a 'relationship of influence', similar rules apply, even if the relationship does not amount to one of subordination or dependence. Here, a victim of harassment will still need to prove a lack of interest, but the burden of proof will be significantly lower.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Policies
The Law states that employers with over 25 employees must adopt a prevention of sexual harassment policy. This policy must be based on the model rules contained in the Law. However, simply adopting these rules without workplace-specific adjustments is unlikely to be sufficient to meet the legal requirements. The Law provides a clear incentive for smaller employers to implement a policy even though they are not obliged to do so.
Appointing a Designated Person at the Workplace
Every employer is required to appoint an appointee for the prevention of sexual harassment issues in the workplace, who is responsible for investigating any complaints. This is a complex role with important responsibilities, and the Law states a preference that women hold this role.
Sexual Harassment Prevention Training
There is currently no statutory training obligation on employers. Employers must, however, allow employees to participate in any training that is conducted.
Recent case-law suggests that the Courts may be close to establishing an obligation to conduct training in this area. At present, there are specific statements of this nature regarding susceptible workplaces (e.g. bars), in which a lack of training was said to have reflected a failure to meet legal obligations. Conducting regular training sessions at all workplaces is therefore highly recommended. In light of the special obligations managers have under the Law, we recommend conducting separate training sessions for managers and other employees.
Our Israeli law firm, Herzog, conducts both special training sessions for sexual harassment appointees, covering the special responsibilities of this important role, and ordinary training sessions for employees and managers. These sessions are always tailor-made to meet the needs of a specific workplace.
Our Israeli law firm is on hand to answer any questions you may have and to provide you with legal advice.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.