I am the only religious Jewish worker at a bakery owned by non-Jews that has a hashgacha during the year but not for Pesach. I believe that if I take off for Chol Hamoed, they will fire me. May I work then? Answer:
Concerning work on Chol Hamoed per se (e.g., Sukkot), one of the broad leniencies is davar ha’aved (significant loss) (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 537:1). Therefore, you may go to work if the alternative is losing your job (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 67:11).
Working with chametz on Pesach, though, raises serious problems. In one of our columns (B’ha’alotcha 5775; please read it), we discussed parameters for working with non-kosher food in various capacities. We dealt with various opinions on a few issues: the possibility the worker will eat the non-kosher food, commerce in non-kosher food, and sometimes lifnei iver (facilitating an aveira). According to our analysis, we would rarely condone holding a job such as waiter at a non-kosher restaurant, for a combination of reasons. While there are differences between the cases in different directions, working directly with chametz on Pesach has obstacles that are even harder to overcome.
First, the level of concern about eating chametz is more severe than for other forbidden foods. The Rama (OC 450:6, based on the Rivash 401) forbids buying chametz for a non-Jew on Pesach, which we do not find for most non-kosher foods. One of the reasons is the concern the Jewish buyer might come to eat it (Rivash; Mishna Berura 450:21). This is in line with the halacha that one who is watching a non-Jew’s chametz in his house (without accepting monetary responsibility) must make a partition in front of it, which, again, we do not find everywhere (Pesachim 6a; Mishna Berura 440:13). It is certainly, then, forbidden to work with ongoing direct physical contact with chametz on Pesach (see also Yabia Omer IV, YD 6).
There is another reason to forbid work dealing with chametz. It is forbidden not only to eat but also to benefit from chametz (Pesachim 21a). The most direct applications of this prohibition are direct physical benefit and selling chametz. However, there are much broader applications of benefit, which are placed under the name of rotzeh b’kiyumo (one wants the forbidden object to exist). The Talmudic sources (see Avoda Zara 63b) discuss rotzeh b’kiyumo mainly, but not only, in the context of yayin nesech (strictly forbidden wine), and almost all Rishonim and poskim say it also applies to chametz. See many examples in Orach Chayim 450, including ones with indirect and minor interest in the chametz. For example, the Magen Avraham (450:10) explains that the aforementioned Rama about buying chametz for a non-Jew as being forbidden also because of rotzeh b’kiyumo.
Is it rotzeh b’kiyumo if you forgo pay for your work on Pesach, and thus ostensibly do not benefit? Regarding yayin nesech, this does not help, as one may not even watch yayin nesech for free and without responsibility to pay for loss because a watchman feels bad if he does not do his job well (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 133:6). Acharonimdisagree to whether one can be in a situation in which he suffers whenchametz is lost but does not gain positively from its presence. Some forbid this only for yayin nesech, assuming that it is more stringent thanchametz in these areas (see Makor Chayim 450:7). Distinctions are made to reconcile apparent contradictions on the matter. According to a particularly pertinent distinction, one may not do an action of interaction with the chametz on Pesach (Maharam Shick, OC 225). In your case, almost all opinions will consider your work forbidden due to rotzeh b’kiyumon, as you would be actively working with chametz. Even if you artificially relinquish the pay you are due, your right to continued employment and future pay as a result is a benefit of your agreement to work with the chametz.
Therefore, we believe you are forbidden to work with the non-Jews’chametz on Pesach, both because of the possibility of eating and/or because of the semi-direct benefit.