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Shabbat Parashat Yitro 5772

P'ninat Mishpat: A Workers Commitment to a Third Party part I

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

Case:   The defendant (=def) worked for a business that marketed and distributed clothing. She approached a printing company (=pl) to design and print 5,000 advertisements. The clothes company closed abruptly and the owner disappeared, and it is not likely that he will pay off his commitments. Pl is suing def personally for the work it performed at her request. Pl claims that def introduced herself as the owner of the company. Def says that she said from the outset that she was a worker. A worker at pl said that def did not state explicitly her position but gave the impression that she ran the business.

[This time we focus on the obligation, if def said neither that she would pay personally nor that someone else would do so.]


Ruling:  The Shulchan Aruch discusses two similar scenarios related to our case. One is of a person who hires a worker, ostensibly to work for him, but brings the worker to a friend’s field to work. The halacha is that the hirer has to pay the worker in full even if he did not say that he would personally pay but just hired him in a non-explicit manner (Choshen Mishpat 336:1). The Shulchan Aruch immediately thereafter says that if one hired a worker to work for his friend without specifying who would pay, he can tell the worker to take that which he produced as his payment unless he says: “I accept responsibility for payment.” In this second case, then, without explicit obligation, the one doing the hiring has no responsibility.

What is the difference between the two cases, which causes that in the first, the hirer is responsible for that which the worker did for someone else, and, in the second, not? The S’ma (ad loc.) explains that in the second case, the worker was aware that he was doing the work for the benefit of a third party, and not for the person who spoke to him. In such a case, the hirer is responsible only if he accepts responsibility explicitly. In a case where the worker is not made aware that the work is for someone else, even if he was not told that he was working for the one who hired him, the hirer is responsible. This is because the worker has reason to believe that he is working for the person who hired him.

In our case, since the company’s operation was of a modest nature, pl had every reason to believe that def was working for herself. But our case is still a little different from that discussed in the Shulchan Aruch. That is because here we know that the company owner sent def to hire a worker, and she was authorized to represent him. The Shach brings a proof for that case from the parallel question of the imperative to pay a worker on time. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 339:7) says that if one hires a worker on someone else’s behalf and did not say that he is responsible for paying nor that the other is responsible for paying, the agent is the one who is responsible to pay on time. Thus, unless the hirer conveys the message that he is only an agent, he is responsible.

Thus, according to the scenario we have dealt with, def would be obligated. [Next week we will discuss the disagreement as to what def actually said.]

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