Beit Midrash

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  • P'ninat Mishpat
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part II

Workers Who Could Not Work Due to Snow

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Rabbi Akiva Kahana

Av 5768
We ended off last time with the opinion of the Maharam that when a teacher is forbidden by the government to teach Torah he receives full pay, which implies that this is the rule whenever a makkat medina (a problem that affects many people) prevents work.


The Netivot Hamishpat (334:1) argues that in the Maharam’s case, although it was forbidden by the government for the teacher to teach, he could have served as a babysitter. Note that the reason a Torah teacher is permitted to receive pay (even though the mitzva of teaching Torah should be done for free) is that he deserves pay for watching the children. The teacher was willing to watch the children for the pay they decided on for teaching, and it is the parent who is unwilling to pay that price if he is unable to teach. Therefore, he deserves full pay. According to the Netivot Hamishpat, if the place of occupation is closed due to snow, even if the workers could come to work with difficulty, we must make the following distinction. If the workers are excused from work for their sake, then even in the case of the makkat medina they are not paid. If it is not worthwhile for the employer to pay for the upkeep for fear of inefficient work, it is the employer who is not interested in the work on that day and each worker is paid.
Let us now summarize: In contrast to a case where there are extenuating circumstances to a single worker, in a case where the extenuating circumstances are a makkat medina the workers may deserve pay. In this regard, a snowstorm is considered a makkat medina because it affects at least an entire city. There still is room to distinguish between a case where the worker can make it to work if he exerts himself and where he is incapable of reaching work because the whole city is shut down. However, when the situation is that the employer decides not to open the place of work, then at times, he will be responsible to pay.
We also saw different opinions regarding pay in the case of a makkat medina. Most understand the Rama to say that the worker receives full pay, while the Netivot Hamishpat says that the employer can back out of the employment agreement in such a case. Generally, in the case of snow, the employer is not interested in firing the workers but rather in reducing their salary due to lack of work on that given day. Therefore, the Netivot Hamishpat is likely to agree that they get full pay. The S’ma is of the opinion that the worker would get only half pay. In practice, most accept the Rama’s ruling on the matter and therefore it seems that the employer should pay a full salary to a worker for days lost due to snow.
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