Rabbi Braun: May I Pay A Worker Less Than The Minimum Wage?



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    Rabbi Braun: May I Pay A Worker Less Than The Minimum Wage?

    A collection of halachic Q&A’s about employer-employee relationships as regards wages presented in connection to Parshas Vayeitzei, which discusses Yaakov’s faithful work for Lavan. By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun shlita, Mara D’Asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights From Beis Moshiach magazine • Full Article

    A collection of halachic Q&A’s about employer-employee relationships as regards wages presented in connection to Parshas Vayeitzei, which discusses Yaakov’s faithful work for Lavan. By HaRav Yosef Yeshaya Braun shlita, Mara D’Asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.

    Forgoing Payment: A Foregone Conclusion?

    If a one-time contractor did work for another but did not ask for payment, we generally assume that he was mochel (waived [payment]), and the customer is not obligated to pay him.

    An example is brought by poskim: Someone served in a Rabbinic role, becoming involved in answering halachic queries, and later decided to ask for remuneration for past services. We do not honor his request since it is as if he was mochel being paid.

    Obviously if a rabbi was initially hired under contract with a salary, we are obligated to pay him for his time. Even if he never asks for payment outright, there is no basis to assume that he was mochel and we must give him his agreed upon salary.

    מרכז סת”ם 720

    The same applies to all workers hired under the proviso of long-term employment. The employer’s obligations include wages and benefits, as well as payment for overtime. However, if an individual was hired for a specific number of hours, but worked overtime without including the extra hours in their work log, it is considered as if they waived payment for those additional hours, and they are entitled to be paid only for the number of hours initially agreed upon.

    In all cases, the determination whether the worker was mochel payment or not is based upon an umdena – a logical assessment of the facts. (In cases of disputed payment, see Halacha #489 and Halacha #553 below). Halacha2Go #797

    Q. What is the halacha if we hire an electrician, a mover, or other worker and agree on a price, but when they show up to do the job they demand more than was agreed upon?

    A. The halacha is that if it’s a davar ha’aved (irreversible damage would result if the job isn’t done at that time), and if it’s not possible to find another worker on such short notice, it’s permissible to give the worker the impression that they will be paid the higher amount, but in fact to only pay them the lower, original amount once the work is completed. This is based on the principle of mat’an (one may fool a worker who reneged on an agreement). However, if it isn’t a davar ha’aved, or there are other workers available at an agreeable price, it’s forbidden to mislead the worker—although it’s up to the worker to prove that there were other options available at the time if he wishes to dispute being paid the lower price; if he is unable to do so, he has no grounds for demanding the higher amount.

    On the other hand, if there was a ketzitza b’taus (the price the worker originally quoted was based on a misunderstanding)—e.g. the worker had not realized that the job entailed much more than he originally thought—we may not deceive him.

    Q. I hired a contractor but failed to set a price in advance; do I have to pay whatever he demands?

    A. Seforim write that it’s important to set a price in advance when hiring a contractor; otherwise they may have expected to earn a certain amount—and even if they ultimately settle for less, they may not fully be mochel (forgive) the person who hired them.

    Beis Moshiach

    In case a price wasn’t set in advance the minhag ha’medina (the customary amount paid for such a job in that particular locale) should be followed. If a company was engaged and they have a known, official price for that service, it takes precedence over minchag ha’medina. If neither of these solutions is applicable, the lowest prevailing price for that type of work should be paid—after factoring in the contractor’s level of professionalism. Halacha2Go #553

    Paying Wages on Time: Cash, Credit Card or Check

    An employer is obligated to pay a worker the same day—or, for the long-term employee, according to an agreed upon payment schedule—by both positive and negative Torah command: “B’yomo titein secharo (pay wages the same day) and “Lo salin” (do not delay payment overnight).

    Must I pay with cash? Checks and credit cards are also an acceptable form of payment, if it’s a common practice in that particular locale. This only applies to situations where checks are expected—paying a taxi driver via check, for example, would not be considered suitable.

    Some poskim limit paying with a check to business hours—while banks are open; if the worker has to wait to cash the check until the next day, it may not be considered timely payment.

    A bounced check violates “lo salin”, since payment to the worker is delayed.

    A post-dated check—and likewise a payment plan over a period of time—is acceptable payment if it was agreed upon in advance.

    In the case of cash, payment is restricted to common legal tender, unless it is local custom to use certain foreign currency.

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    May I pay a worker less than the minimum wage?

    Paying less than the minimum wage to an employee raises a number of halachic issues: ona’ah—one may not pay less than the market value for goods and services received; geneivas da’as—deceiving the worker if he is unaware that he’s being paid less than the minimum wage; and geneivah—downright stealing. Some of these issues apply when dealing with non-Jews as well.

    However, if one’s intention has been made clear in advance, and the worker is mevater and mochel (consents) to accept the amount being offered despite the fact that it is below minimum wage, then it’s not a problem from a strictly halachic perspective. The legal ramifications are a different issue altogether, beyond the scope of this article. Halacha2Go #528

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    The magazine can be obtained in stores around Crown Heights. To purchase a subscription, please go to: bmoshiach.org

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