Lesson # 268 (part one) • Labor Law
The laws that regulate the relationship between an employer and an
employee are similar to laws regulating an owner and a lessee, the
subject matter of our last few lessons. The employer leases the
employee to do work for him. In most societies there are laws,
customs, contracts, and agreements that govern the relationship
between an employer and an employee. The halacha recognizes these as
being binding on Jewish people covered thereby. However, there are
situations where there may not be an agreement or custom or laws or
regulations to govern their relationship, or some aspects thereof;
or the parties may wish to abide by the law as it exists in halacha
in preference to formal agreements, or laws or customs; or the
workplace is small and the relationship between the employer and the
employee is such that industry-wide or even company-wide policies
and agreements either do not exist or do not apply; or there are
exemptions under the law for such small businesses.
The concept of strikes
is of recent origin in halacha. Since the right to strike is often
recognized by governmental legislation, the halacha recognizes such
rights with a few exceptions. I have added a section regarding
Agreements and the laws
of the land govern
Halacha recognizes agreements, contracts, and the laws, regulations,
and customs of the land regarding the employer/employee relationship
as being binding. The contracts may be industry-wide, company-wide,
or individual. To the extent any exists, it may govern all aspects
of such relationships such as term of the agreement ;hours to be
worked; wages, bonus, and overtime to be paid; vacations; sick
leave; promotions; grievances; uniforms to be worn and/or supplied;
working conditions; whether meals are to be provided by the
employer; issues such as portal-to-portal pay, seniority; retirement
funds, medical funds, and hospitalization; harassment;
discrimination; and any other matters that come within the area of
If there is no minimum
wage law for a particular class of workers, the employee must be
paid a wage at least equal to the minimum received by others in like
When the employment
The best method to bind the employer and the employee is to have an
agreement made binding by a kinyan. (The term kinyan has been
defined many times in these lesson. It consists of the promisor
taking hold of an item owned by the promisee, most of the time a
handkerchief is used. Absent such agreements, practices recognized
by the community as binding in such instances will be binding.
However, it is not necessary to have a kinyan or a written contract
to make binding the relationship between the employer and the
employee. Absent a specific agreement, Halacha recognizes that the
employment commences when the employee begins to work pursuant to
the request of the employer. This is not similar to the agreements
described in some prior lessons where agreements can be binding by
mere words. In this case the agreement becomes binding on the
employer when the employee commences to work. As soon as he
commences, both parties are bound.
The Hours to Be Worked
The agreements between the parties will govern the hours to be
worked. Most often there are laws or regulations, or custom in the
community or trade, controlling the length of hours. If there is a
new community without custom as to hours to be worked, but the
majority of the workers are from a community where there wasa
custom, such custom is followed.
Absent the foregoing,
Halachah recognizes a 12-hour day commencing when the employee
leaves his home for work until he leaves the place of employment.
During that span, he is to receive time for eating his lunch and
time for prayers. If the employee is paid by the hour of work, then
he is not paid for prayer time and he may say the full prayers.
However, if he is praying on the employer's time, he must shorten
From this it can be
seen the importance that Halacha attaches to the employee's putting
in an honest day's work. On Friday and the days before Holy Days,
the workday is shortened to permit the employee to reach home and
make proper preparations for the Sabbath or Holy Day.
When Meals Are Supplied
by the Employer
If there is no agreement between the employer and the employee as to
whether the employer will furnish meals or snacks for the employee,
the custom of the community or trade, if any, is followed. If there
is a community practice to supply meals and/or snacks, and as to the
quality and types of meals and/or snacks, this must be followed.
Absent any agreement or custom, the employer is not obligated to
furnish meals and/or snacks to his employees.
If the employee is
employed to work as a servant or waiter in a home and if there is an
agreement to furnish meals and/or snacks, the employee is entitled
to the same type of snack that the employer reserves for himself.
The servant is technically responsible for breakage of things when
he is working in the house; however, Halacha pleads with the
employer not to enforce this right in most instances, since the
value of the items broken is usually small and the employer can
absorb this loss better than the employee. It will be an even
greater act of kindness on behalf of the employer if the broken
object is of great value.
The Right to Strike
As will be seen in a future lesson, in a section that will IYH be
entitled "The Employee's Right to Terminate the Employment;' the
employee may leave the employment in most instances. The striking
employee does not leave the employment, but temporarily leaves the
employment to obtain a certain goal, most often an economic gain.
The employee has the right to strike as are governed by the
legislation of the community where he works. In Halacha the right is
restricted in certain areas such as a Torah teacher of children; his
right to strike must be weighed against the rights of the children
to have uninterrupted Torah study; before embarking on a strike,
such teachers must obtain approval from a prominent rabbi who should
try to obtain a peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes between
the employee and the school where the strike is to take place.
Unfortunately, there is a long history of schools where Torah is
taught where teachers have sometimes not been paid for long time
periods due to lack of funds or in some schools where the wages of
the teachers are below par. Sometimes the outstanding rabbis have
sanctioned strikes to sound the alarm to the lay leadership of the
school to raise more funds to pay the Torah teachers of the children
a living wage.
The subject matter of this lesson is more fully discussed in volume
IX chapter 332 of A Restatement of Rabbinic Civil Law by E. Quint.
Copies of all volumes can be purchased via email:
and via website:
www.israelbooks.com and at local Judaica
bookstores. Questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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