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How Businesses Are Affected in Israel

Tel aviv, israel at dusk.

​None of Ben Sever's employees at Havas Tel Aviv, a global communications agency based in Tel Aviv, Israel, were directly affected by the terror attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7. But, as Israel is a small country, many who live and work there know someone who was. In the wake of the subsequent military action, businesses like Havas have had to grapple with the appropriate response.

"The office is open, but our practice is that everybody can obviously stay at their homes and work remotely," said Sever, chief creative officer, co-CEO and partner at Havas. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of the employees show up to work in person, and all others work remotely, he said. "It's hard, but we're trying."

How to Navigate Uncertain Times

In this period of immense uncertainty, businesses, employers and employees in Israel are all trying to navigate new restrictions and limitations. Schools are closed, and the Home Front Command, Israel's disaster response and civil defense force, has placed certain restrictions on gatherings and workplaces. Many businesses have coped by moving to a work-from-home model where possible, using the strategies developed during the COVID-19 pandemic as a template for remote work. 

"A lot of the businesses where employees can do remote work, in the high-tech and other sectors, have moved to that, and I think they're planning on being in that stage for a while," said Jacki Silbermann, an attorney with Barnea Jaffa Lande & Co. in Tel Aviv. 

Work from home isn't available for all sectors, however. "A high-tech company can relatively easily switch to working from home, whereas a factory can't always, so it very heavily depends on the specific characteristics of each workplace," said Abigail Borowitz, an attorney with Herzog Fox & Neeman in Tel Aviv.

Child Care Considerations

Working from home is complicated by school closures, which means that parents working from home are also often caring for children simultaneously.

"Right now schools are shut down. A lot of employees can't work because they have to be at home with children, especially if their spouses have been called up to the reserves, or they're single parents," Silbermann said. "So employers need to recognize that, as well, that we are largely dependent upon what's going to happen with child care, and if they're going to open schools up again or not." 

Compensation Questions

An open question is whether the government will implement any compensation scheme for businesses that have closed or been affected by the fighting. In the past, the government often compensated businesses in affected regions and reached collective agreements with unions and employer organizations after the fact to sort out compensation. The larger question is whether there will be compensation for businesses that are less directly affected geographically but still have seen business suffer.

"I don't know what the government is going to do with the rest of the country, because there are other businesses, even in the center of Israel, like malls that are at the moment standing quite empty. … Shopkeepers haven't opened the shops, and I don't know what the government will decide regarding these," Borowitz said. "I anticipate that the National Insurance Institute will address this issue and will find a way to at least partly compensate businesses, even if they haven't been directly affected. That's what experience has told us."

Some Options for Foreign Companies

Foreign companies with branches or employees in Israel need to evaluate on a case-by-case basis what they think is best. While some companies with foreign employees based in Israel have chosen to relocate those employees out of the country, those with Israeli employees should try to figure out how they can best support their workers. Some might be in need of psychological or emotional support. 

"I think employers need to have an honest conversation with each and every one of their employees very individually, because it's a very individual thing, and see what employees can and are willing to do at this time," Silbermann said. "I think it's going to take a lot of work from HR specialists to have very personal and honest conversations with employees about each employee's individual situation and what each employee can manage, especially if some of them have been personally affected by the atrocities."

Generally, workplaces can serve as a point of stability in a country that is still very much in the middle of a crisis, when much is still unclear. 

"A lot of people have been touched personally by what happened. … So you have a lot of people in mourning. You have a lot of people in fear, with some that have been so traumatized, even if not personally, just from what happened and seeing the events unfold on the news and the pictures. A lot of people are in shock," Silbermann said. "I think employers are also very aware of that and trying to give their employees a second."

"One of the hardest things," Sever said, "is the uncertainty of the situation."

Katie Nadworny is a freelance writer in Istanbul. 


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