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Beit Midrash Series P'ninat Mishpat

Chapter 69

Work Under a Questionable Agreement

Various Rabbis6 SHVAT 5769
621
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Case:
P'ninat Mishpat (575)
Various Rabbis
68 - Enforcing a Work Agreement
69 - Work Under a Questionable Agreement
70 - Paying an Agent For a Deal That Did Not Go Through
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The defendant (=def), an organization that furthers Torah education, hired the plaintiff (=pl) to serve as head of a kollel responsible for teaching local residents. Pl and def’s representative (=rep) agreed on a monthly salary of 3,000 shekels, based on an estimate of 30 shekels an hour for 15 hours a week and 60 shekels a day for transportation. It was also agreed that payment of the salary would be dependant on the arrival of funds from the Education Ministry for the project. After a few months of receiving only partial payment, pl signed a memorandum stating that he knew that the time and amount of his payment depended on the Education Ministry funds. After 15 months of minimal pay, pl quit. He demands full back pay for the outstanding salary and payment until the end of the school year, which is the normal work period of educators. Def responds that they never intended to give pl more than the funds they receive from the Education Ministry, as indicated in the memorandum, which was on the basis of 8 shekels an hour. Rep was not authorized to obligate def in more than that.


Ruling: Rep’s calculation of the salary, both in its amount and the idea of transportation, shows that it was not based on the Education Ministry allocations. It would seem, though, that the waiver in the signed memorandum is binding even if pl did not understand its significance (based on Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 45:3). However, in this case, rep led him to believe that his signature was confirming what they had agreed orally. Since that which one is obligated by his signature even without understanding stems from the fact that he did not bother to investigate (S’ma 45:5), it does not apply when he inquired and was misled.
Regarding a case like this, where rep exceeded his authority in making the promises he did, the matter is spelled out in Bava Metzia (76a). When one who was sent to hire a worker told the worker that he would be getting more than the employer had said, then if the worker said that the employer would be responsible for pay, the latter has to pay according to the level of benefit he received from the worker. Thus, def is not held to rep’s unauthorized promises but to the level of benefit. Although def did not personally benefit from pl’s services, others in the community did, and since that is what def asked pl to do, it is considered def’s benefit. Beit din decided that 3,000 shekels a month is a reasonable (or low) salary for pl’s work, and he should be paid at that rate for 15 months.
However, since payment is based on benefit and not an agreement, pl cannot make demands for the time after he quit. Pl is also not entitled to severance pay, which applies to regular employees, not contractors, which pl is considered, as he was paid based on the benefit provided.
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