Shabbat Parashat Tazria Metzora| 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Charging for Incidental Work Not Originally Discussed
Question: I give a handyman a lot of work and pay him at a generous hourly rate, trusting him to report the hours. It has now come to my attention that he charges me for things that I do not think are right. This includes the time he spends asking experts how to do things and the time and “wear and tear” on the car when he picks up things for me. I told him that I thought those things, which are not his work itself should be on his account, yet he keeps on charging me. Can he do that after I told him that he should not be charging?
Answer: We cannot give you a definitive answer not only because we have not heard the handyman’s version but also because many of the issues may depend on nuances that we are not aware of. After learning some of the principles, you should be reasonably equipped to work out a system of dealing with past and future questions through communication.
The standard obligation to a worker requires the employer’s explicit or at least implicit agreement that he provide a service. However, there is another possibility to be obligated even without agreement, based on the concept of neheneh (benefit).
The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 264:4) talks about one who, along with a friend, was in jail and used his resources to secure not only his own release but his friend’s also. The Rama says that if he added resources to include his friend’s release or if he made the outlays with both of them in mind, his friend must pay him. He then creates a general rule: “Anyone who does an action or a favor for his friend, [the friend] cannot say: ‘You did it for free because I did not tell you to do it,’ but rather he must pay his wages.” Since no pay was discussed, he would have to pay according to the lower end of the range of salaries (K’tzot Hachoshen 331:3). The exception to the rule is when that which was done is something that is generally done for free (Pitchei Choshen, Sechirut 8:31). Thus to the extent that the “extra” things the handyman did were of value to you, you would have to pay, but if they were beyond the scope of what you had asked, not at the usual generous rate.
After your initial protest, it is possible that your stance improves. The Rama discusses a case where the recipient of the favor said nothing in advance regarding payment, but you said that you did not want to pay for the extras, which could change matters. Although he raises that possibility, the Pri Tevu’ah (cited in Pitchei Teshuva, ibid.:3) rules that if the worker intended to get paid and there was neheneh, the recipient still has to pay (unless the provider of the benefit could be forced to provide the service, e.g., if it required no sacrifice on his part).
On the other hand, Shut Mahariya Halevi (151) says that it does not make sense that one must pay after he told his counterpart in advance that he refuses to do so. If there are differing halachic opinions, it is difficult to extract money. The Pitchei Choshen (Sechirut 8:(64)) says that the Pri Tevu’ah was talking about a case where the recipient expressed dissatisfaction at the idea of paying, but wanted the work done, but if there were a conclusive refusal to pay, all would exempt him.
This distinction is likely pertinent in your case, as you may have only protested but not refused. On the other hand, there is likely a distinction in your favor in your case. The aforementioned sources discussed cases where the recipient wants not to pay anything. In contrast, you are paying for services generously. Therefore, it makes sense to interpret your protest as follows: “As long as I am generous with the rate of pay, I expect you to be generous at not running up the bill by counting incidental time expenditures. If you want to charge for neheneh, then let’s use a low rate for everything.” Especially if there are standard practices in this area of work, one should not generalize in one person’s favor or the other regarding all charges but look at each type of charge. A compromise about the past and guidelines for the future (for example, that he must ask you in advance about certain types of work) is probably best.
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