Amy operates a successful playgroup for toddlers in her home. All parents who send their children to the playgroup sign a contract that stipulates that they are required to pay for her services on the first of the month for the duration of the school year. As a result of COVID-19, Amy was forced to close her playgroup sometime in March. With ongoing expenses, which included paying teachers and their assistants, Amy reached out to the parent body seeking payment for the month of April. Much to her dismay, nearly all of the parents ignored her request. Amy reached out to our Bet Din for instruction and guidance on the matter.
Are the parents of the playgroup required to pay for services they did not receive? Is Amy entitled to enforce her contract and collect payment from the parents? How should the Bet Din rule and why?
An Important Notification
Due to the current COVID-19 crisis, many financial disputes have emerged and are presently being settled by qualified rabbinical courts around the globe. It is important for parties in dispute to submit their respective claims to competent halachic authorities. The laws governing a pandemic are detailed and complex, and only an experienced Bet Din with a broad knowledge of monetary law can rule accurately. The following article highlights only some of the research done for this case, as part of the information is too intricate to record and is beyond the scope of this article. Since no two cases are the same, it is not recommended to apply this ruling even to a similar case, as often minor details can substantially sway the outcome of a decision. Nevertheless, it is valuable for us to study the laws of the Torah and acquire a basic understanding of monetary laws that apply to a pandemic.
According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch an employee is not entitled to his wages in the event he does not labor. Even in instances in which the cause for his sudden unemployment is because of circumstance beyond his control, nevertheless, he not entitled to compensation. This ruling is applicable when both the employer and employee were unable to foresee or anticipate the occurrence that ultimately cancelled their arrangement. If, however, the employer was aware of a potential mishap and did not inform his employee as such, he is required to compensate his employee for his lost time of employment.
The above ruling is applicable for nearly all cases of accidental mishap. If, however, employment is cancelled because of a statewide disaster, numerous halachic authorities debate whether an employee’s wages must be paid. On the one hand, some authorities propose that regardless of whether the mishap is local or statewide an employee that does not labor is not entitled to wages.
However, other authorities differ, explaining that a statewide disaster is viewed as the misfortune of the employer and he must sustain the loss of the disaster. The underlying reasoning behind this latter opinion is that employers are similar to landlords in that they are in positions of dominance and authority, so they are responsible for the financial effects of a statewide disaster. Just as a landlord is required to forgo his claim for rent when a tenant cannot occupy the premises due to a statewide disaster, an employer is responsible to provide wages for his workers although they cannot labor.
Leading halachic authorities testify that since an employee’s wages during a statewide disaster are a matter of halachic contention, it is customary of a Bet Din to instruct an employer to compensate his worker with half of his or her regular wages. This approach in resolving the ultra-sensitive matter of an employee’s livelihood and an employer’s ability to maintain financial stability during turbulent times, is usually very practical and successful. In instances in which government funding is readily available to an employee to offset his loss of wages, the above information is not applicable.
During the global pandemic of COVID-19, playgroups worldwide were required by law to remain closed for months on end. Parents had employed the services of these playgroups, which included the employment of directors and teachers to provide services for their children. The above-mentioned settlement is clearly the suggested approach to resolve the matter, and our Bet Din therefore impressed on the parent body to pay half the wages of the playgroup. Nevertheless, depending on the specific case at hand, this ruling can be subject to change. If a parent has a claim, or the need to express their position, they are to contact a Bet Din to further discuss any issues.
The above ruling is not applicable to classrooms that conducted zoom lessons for their student body, but rather for instances in which no service was provided.e
VEREDICT: A Brighter Future
Our Bet Din partially validated Amy’s position and instructed parents to pay half the wages due. As aforementioned, case precedence dating back hundreds of years attest that during a pandemic or statewide disaster one is required to pay for half of the services he contracted. This ruling is applicable to instances in which no services were rendered because of government restriction. If, however, the age group of the children allowed for lessons on zoom, appropriate compensation is to be configured for such services. In the event government aid is readily available for such services, the above ruling is not applicable.
The above settlement is proven to enable continuous success going forward and provides hope for a brighter future. Notwithstanding, it is subject to change. If a parent or director have a specific claim, or a need to express their position, they are by all means entitled to contact our Bet Din to voice their petition.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Scrambling for Camping
Jack operates a large summer camp that services his community annually. After collecting deposits from many applicants for the summer of 2020, he needed to cancel the camp’s opening because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although it was perhaps legal for him to open as scheduled, nevertheless, the restrictions imposed by the state with regard to the number of campers allowed and various other regulations made it nearly impossible for him to operate at a profit. Furthermore, Jack was concerned for the safety of his campers, and opening the camp would seemingly jeopardize the wellbeing of all involved. Upon cancellation, the parents requested their deposit money in return. Many applicants were disappointed with Jack’s decision not to open and were scrambling to find other options for their children’s summer vacation and needed the funds to apply elsewhere. Jack turned to our Bet Din for guidance and instruction.
Is Jack required to return the deposits?
How should the Bet Din rule and why?