The Case – Pre-Passover Slavery

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Alex was hired to manage an Italian restaurant, scheduled to open three weeks before the Passover holiday. Danny, his boss, conscientiously arranged for all the necessary details to ensure punctuality, but was having difficulty finding workers, due to a shortage of employees during the high season. On opening day, it was evident that the restaurant was understaffed, but Danny reassured Alex that he would hire at least two more employees by the next morning.  For the next three weeks Danny was unable to find competent additional employees, and the workload fell on the shoulders of Alex, the store manager. Although Alex complained daily that the pressure was unbearable, Danny encouraged him to continue, constantly reassuring him that help was on the way.  By the end of three weeks, Alex was fit to be tied, and insisted that Danny double his salary for that period. Although they had agreed on a $1,500 a week salary, due to the unforeseen employee shortage, Alex felt he was entitled to an additional $4,500 for his efforts. Danny rejected Alex’s claim, and explained that Alex was hired to manage the store, which included the pre-Passover season. Clearly shorthanded, Alex obviously worked harder than expected. He was nevertheless not given any specific chores that a manager does not sometimes assume.  

How should the Bet Din rule? Is Alex entitled to an increase in salary, or perhaps Danny is exempt from additional payment, and why? 

 

Torah Law 

According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, the terms and conditions of employment agreed upon by an employer and employee are to be upheld by both parties. Often, however, changes in the needs of the parties arise during the term of employment demanding a reassessment of the original agreement. These changes can cause friction between the parties, requiring the mediation of a Bet Din. 

The classic case addressed by the halachic authorities is where an employee transported on his back a carton that exceeded the maximum weight agreed upon by him and his employer. The halachic authorities debate the question of whether the employee is entitled to additional compensation due to the excess weight that he carried. Those who exempt the employer from payment maintain that since the employee continued carrying the load after noticing the excess weight and did not take it off his back or demand a higher wage, he implicitly expressed his consent to transport the heavier carton at no additional charge. Others, however, argue that the worker did not demand an increase in wages upon realizing the weight of the load because he made the reasonable assumption that he would be duly compensated for his additional toil. Hence, upon completing the job he is to be given additional compensation for the work he performed beyond his initially agreed-upon duties.  

All authorities agree, however, that if the employee was unaware of the additional weight he was carrying, then he is surely entitled to full compensation. For example, if the employee mistakenly attributed the difficulty in transporting the load to his physical frailty, and not to the load’s excess weight, he could not be expected to request extra compensation, and is therefore entitled to higher wages when he realizes he worked beyond the original terms of employment. 

Moreover, this debate pertains only to an employee who performed the job he was hired for but had to labor more intensely than he had expected.  If, however, the employee performed additional tasks that were not included in the job for which he was originally hired, or if he worked overtime, he is entitled to additional compensation even though he did not request it at the time he performed his work.  

The job description of a store manager generally includes resolving common problems that are likely to arise, and intense work during high season and double tasking are usually part of a manager’s job. It is precisely for this reason that managers’ base salaries are higher than those of standard employees, as they are compensated for assuming additional responsibilities that are not borne by ordinary workers. 

Endnotes: Baba Metzia 80b; Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 308:5,308:7; Perishah and Bach, 308:7; Be’ur HaGra, 308:5; Shilte Giborim, Baba Metzia 80b; Aruch Hashulhan, 308. 

 

VERDICT:  Freedom of Speech 

The Bet Din ruled in favor of Daniel, exempting him from paying Alex the additional $4,500 that he demanded. Although Alex was overloaded with work during the weeks before Passover, nevertheless, all the tasks he performed were included in his job description, which was outlined from the outset. Although Alex worked substantially harder than anticipated, it was his responsibility to speak up and request additional payment as soon as he realized he was understaffed. Although Daniel failed to hire additional employees after reassuring Alex that he would do so, his failure in this regard is not grounds for awarding Alex $4,500. After all, Alex had numerous conversations with Daniel about his difficult work conditions, and never seized the opportunity to request a wage increase for his extra labor. Once he allowed the situation to continue without mentioning additional wages, he cannot then claim an increase afterward. While some halachic authorities award an employee that performs extra labor a wage increase even without his making such a stipulation, nevertheless, regarding the position of a store manager, all authorities would likely agree that an increase is not due after the fact.  As store manager, Alex was hired to deal with and resolve problems commonly confronting a restaurant during high season, which would seem to include the intense pressure and double tasking that can surely be anticipated before the Passover holiday.  

Although the case was dismissed, Daniel agreed to offer Alex a modest bonus as is customarily practiced in the industry. 

In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H 

YOU BE THE JUDGE 

A Junk Collector  

Jacob, president of a successful charity organization, decided to update the computer room with new equipment, and allocated funds for the project.  Of the 30 computers owned by the organization, more than half were busted, and were surely not worth fixing. Leon, the superintendent, chose not to dispose of them, but rather to sell them to a used parts dealer, and he earned a handsome sum of $1,200. When the new equipment arrived, Jacob proudly expressed his joy over finally trashing the old equipment, and thanked Leon for the labor entailed in disposing of it. Later that day, Jacob found out about Leon’s profit from the sale, and asked Leon to forward the income to the organization.  Leon refused to forward the funds on the grounds that Jacob’s intention all along was to dump the old gear, and as superintendent it was his job to dispose of it. Since he could have dumped it, it stands to reason he reserved the right to take it for himself or to sell it.  Jacob agreed that he intended on dumping the equipment, but he never explicitly instructed Leon to do so. Furthermore, since the old computers belonged to the organization, the organization should receive even unexpected profits that the old computers generated.  

How should the Bet Din rule, in favor of Leon or Jacob, and why?