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Shabbat Parashat Shemot 5772

P'ninat Mishpat: The Firing of a Teacher part II

(condensed from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case:   The plaintiff (=pl) served for two years as a Torah studies teacher. Toward year’s end, the school sent all the teachers letters of dismissal and a note that they should discuss with the principal the possibility of reinstatement for the next year. Pl says that a few weeks later, the principal (=def) told him he could return, but on the last day of school, def told him that he would not be allowed to return. Pl claims that, as a very dedicated and successful teacher, he should continue on staff. Def cites the following complaints about pl’s functioning within the staff: he does not cooperate with the school psychologist; he mills around with the students at inappropriate times, such as during davening and meals; one day, he did not show up; another day, he gave out cookies during teaching time. In general, he does not feel a need to conform to def’s educational directions. On the other hand, pl is a dedicated teacher, with a fair share of educational success, especially regarding connection to students.


Ruling:  [Last time, we saw that def had a right to fire pl. Now we will discuss compensation for lost income.]

Unfortunately, it is accepted that teachers’ status is not secure until the beginning of the school year. However, a principal’s oral commitment to continue the teacher’s employment cannot be ignored, for the following reasons: If the teacher starts his preparations for the year, that serves as a kinyan on the new employment period. Secondly, since according to local practice, an oral contract is binding, it is possible that it is binding through situmata (a generic kinyan for that which is accepted by society).

Another reason the commitment is significant is that it can create a situation of garmi (semi-direct damage). The Shulchan Aruch rules that if someone hires a worker who could have found another job and then backs out when it is too late to find a job, the employer must pay the part of his salary that corresponds to the damage of being unemployed (poel batel, which is less than the salary of one who has to work). During the month that pl thought he was employed, it would have been much easier for him to have looked for another job.

In this case, pl and def dispute whether def assured pl he had a job, and therefore, def is obligated to take a rabbinic oath that he did not do so. For some time, beit din does not administer oaths, but makes compromises in lieu of the oaths. In addition to compromises due to untaken oaths, beit din also has the authority to rule as seems fit to them in cases where the truth cannot be determined, especially by employing compromises. The situation in which there is a lack of clarity about a teacher’s professional status is a morally inappropriate one. The teacher is expected to show allegiance to the school, while the school “controls the steering wheel.” Beit din encourages the school to devise a re-hiring policy that is fair to both sides and allows each side to plan. In this case, beit din requires the school to pay for two months of pl’s salary, in addition to normal severance pay.

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