The Incredible Story of The Miracle Twins

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A FLICK OF THE SWITCH

By: Rabbi Max Sutton



THE CASE

Toby is an employed manager of a local butcher store. Aside from keeping the store organized and in good running order, his responsibilities include the opening and closing of the store each day. During the holiday season Toby’s workload was overwhelming, and one Friday morning he wrongly consumed alcohol while on the job. By late afternoon Toby was well intoxicated, and at the time of closing he accidently flicked off the switch of the freezer while he was busy closing the lights and the machinery of the store before leaving for the weekend. By Monday morning all the meat prepared for the next week’s customers was spoiled, and with no meat in stock the store sustained a substantial financial loss. In Bet Din, Fred, the storeowner, claimed that Toby owed him the full anticipated retail price of the spoiled meat. Toby sincerely apologized for his negligence and misconduct, though he was only willing to reimburse Fred for the wholesale purchase price of the meat. Fred explained that at the time it was high season and it was impossible for him to receive a new shipment from his supplier. He is therefore unwilling to forfeit his anticipated profits because of Toby’s gross misconduct. Fred withheld payment of Toby’s weekly salary and the yearly bonus due him after the holiday season as collateral for payment for his loss.

Is Fred entitled to collect from Toby the retail price of the meat spoiled as a result of Toby’s negligent mistake? Can Toby satisfy his obligation by paying Fred for the out of pocket loss which is the wholesale price? How should the Bet Din rule and why?

TORAH LAW

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, one who damages another’s property is required to compensate the victim for his loss. When appraising the damage sustained, a Bet Din will estimate the monetary value of the property at the time it was damaged. Hence, even if the property appreciated after it was damaged, nevertheless, the offender is only responsible for the appraised value at the time the damage was inflicted.

Additionally, by rule of the Shulhan Aruch, the appraisal is done according to the wholesale value of the property. Hence, although the property is designated for retail sale, the offender is not liable for the anticipated profit of the property he damaged, but rather is only liable for its wholesale value.

Leading halachic authorities differentiate between an unaffiliated party that inflicts damage and an employee that negligently causes damage to his employer. It is the employee’s fiduciary responsibility to perform his job in a manner that is not reckless or counterproductive to the interests of his employer. Failure to maintain a minimal level of responsibility, and the subsequent violation of trust of an employer, can often result in costly out of pocket expenses to an employee. In such instances an employee is responsible to compensate his employer the predicted appreciated value of the property he carelessly damaged, based on the retail price. Many leading halachic authorities deem that these stringencies should be imposed on an employee who causes damage. Although a minority view challenges the above ruling, in instances in which the employer is in possession of funds owed to the employee, the ruling and decision of a Bet Din is in alliance with the majority.

By contrast, in the event an employee fulfils his fiduciary responsibilities, he is extended specific leniencies and exemptions for consequential damages. In such instances, not only is the employer’s claim dismissed, the employer is required to pay his worker his wages in full. Our sages extended such leniencies to an employee to protect his status and general welfare. If an employee does not violate the trust and interests of his employer, it is only just and proper to pay the employee his wages and free him of specific liabilities.

In instances in which an employee acts with negligence and is required to pay for damages at retail price, nonetheless, various reductions do apply. A store owner incurs multiple expenses to operate his business, and the loss of gross profits does not reflect his actual net loss. Without merchandise to sell on account of the damage, the store theoretically can be closed for a period of time, enabling the savings of substantial operating expenses. The cost of saved electricity, labor, and raw material used to operate is to be deducted from the amount an employee is required to pay. Furthermore, merchandise which can be timely purchased to replace the loss of retail sales is a serious factor to be considered. The employee is only responsible to pay the wholesale price for any merchandise that can be replaced and made available to the retail customer in an expedited manner.

Financial Consequences of Misbehavior

Our Bet Din ruled in favor of Fred, the employer, and instructed Toby to pay the retail price for the meat he recklessly damaged. Nevertheless, Toby is entitled to a substantial reduction off the retail price since Fred was saved multiple operating expenses. Without meat for retail sale, Fred could theoretically close his store and save on electricity, labor, and raw materials. Furthermore, although Fred’s supply of meat for the upcoming week was unavailable, he could have expedited an order from his main supplier and salvaged a day or so of his retail sales. Toby is only responsible to pay retail price for the days that were inevitably lost on account of the damage he caused. Other than the unavoidable lost retail sales, Toby is only required to pay for the cost of the meat he damaged.

Upon review of the financials, our Bet Din instructed Toby to pay Fred a 20% charge above wholesale price, which represents the estimated total net loss sustained by the damage. We instructed Fred to forward to Toby his much-needed salary and yearly bonus, and designed a slow pay out plan for Toby to satisfy his debt owed for damages.

As mentioned in Torah law, Toby is obligated to pay retail price after deducting the saved expenses, and not the wholesale cost of damage, since he violated his fiduciary responsibilities to his employer. By wrongly consuming alcohol while on the job, he negligently breached his responsibilities as an employee and he is required to bear the consequences of his misbehavior.