Lesson # 270 (part three) •Labor Law
Wages Rise or Fall in the Community
However, if there are conversations held regarding the new average wages, whether higher or lower, and the one party tells the other party to continue working or they would continue to work, it is taken as an indication that the other party agreed to the change in the wage, although not specifically expressed.
The average wage for watchmen when the employer hires the employee is $5 an hour, but they agree that the employee will receive $4 an hour. The wages for watchmen in the community fall to $4 an hour. The employer demands that the employee take a proportionate cut in wages. His plea is dismissed by Beth Din. Similarly if the average wage rises to $6 an hour, and the employee demands that his wages be raised proportionately, his plea is dismissed. However, if the wages to be paid were linked to the average wage, such as the employee is to be paid $1 an hour more than the average wage, and the average wage rises or falls, then his wages rise or fall.
Early termination of employment
Those who were skilled were generally independent contractors. Most of the workers were farm workers hired on a day-to-day basis to plow, plant, irrigate, or harvest crops. Most such workers were paid a trifle above the acceptable minimum wage; the minimum wage was what an unemployed worker, such as a watchman or delivery man, would accept if someone offered him work. Thus, very often the difference between the minimum wage and the agreed-upon wage was small, but this small amount very often also represented the difference between being able or not being able to buy food and clothing.
How long is the term of the understanding? May one side terminate the understanding without the approval of the other side, and if he does, what are the rights of the parties? Halacha sometimes makes distinctions as to when one side disappoints the other. The employee disappoints the employer when the employee resigns his position; the employer disappoints the employee when the employer fires the employee or otherwise terminates the employment sooner than expected. I have designated the party who reneges on his part of the understanding to be the "disappointing party" and the other person to be the “disappointed party."
Did the disappointment occur before the work was supposed to commence, before the worker showed up at the place of employment, or after the worker had commenced to perform? Will the other party bear an irreparable loss as a result of the disappointment by the other party? Many of the laws are reciprocal regarding one party disappointing the other by not fulfilling the understanding between them.
The laws of the land governing labor relations will usually govern, such as to minimum wages, hours to be worked, retirement and pensions, vacations, health care, seniority, other perks and any other matters known as labor relations.
There is a difference of opinion as to whether Halacha permits a person to enter into a formal agreement of employment, thereby implicitly waiving his rights under Torah law to leave his employment at any time. The accepted present view seems to be that an employee can enter into an employment agreement and it will be binding upon him. Such contracts or agreements are made binding by a kinyan being performed by the party who is to be bound, usually both the employee and employer. In the contracts between the employer and the employee, whether an individual or a large group in a geographic area, an industry, or certain types of workers or members of unions, the many other facets of labor relations will govern in addition to the laws of the land.
There are also times that the parties may bind themselves by an oath to carry out the terms of their understanding or by a handshake if that is a method recognized by the customs of the community to be the equivalent to an oath.
Coming next week: The Employee's Right to Terminate the Employment and more, on Early Termination of Employment
The subject matter of this lesson is more fully discussed in volume IX chapter 332-333 of A Restatement of Rabbinic Civil Law by E. Quint. Copies of all volumes can be purchased via email: firstname.lastname@example.org and via website: www.israelbooks.com and at local Judaica bookstores. Questions to email@example.com