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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5773
P'ninat Mishpat: Who Should Discuss With Whom?(from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)
Case: The plaintiff (=pl) was a teacher at a network of schools (=def) for a number of years and took a year of sabbatical according to the standard procedure. Towards the end of the year, pl started talking with members of def and the principal of the specific school at which he worked about the possibility of changing from a classroom teacher to an administrative position. Def did not offer an administrative position and as the next school year approached and pl did not inform def that he was returning as a teacher, def found a replacement for him, treating him as one who quit his job. Def paid pl severance pay as if they had legally fired pl, but pl demands a year’s pay, because he was informed of being fired later than the law allows, plus penalties spelled out by the law for late payment of severance pay. Def argues that since one who is on sabbatical leave has to inform his employer in writing about his plans to return, which pl did not do, pl has no rights, and the severance he received was beyond the letter of the law.
Ruling: Beit din accepts def’s basic claim that pl was required by the guidelines of employees on sabbatical leave to inform in writing by a certain date that he planned on returning. In this case, their claim is far beyond a technical claim of failure to formally inform. Rather, pl left a strong impression with various relevant parties that he was not interested in retaining his original job. Therefore, according to the law, def is not obligated to pay pl.
However, beit din feels that def did not fulfill their moral obligation to pl, who was an important and long-term employee who contributed a lot to def. It is not as if pl gave the impression that he planned on leaving the employment of def and/or that he had found alternative employment elsewhere. Rather, he had expressed a desire to change positions within def’s apparatus. While def admitted that they should have met with him to discuss the situation in a serious manner out of honor to him, beit din feels that they should have done so out of concern for his welfare, as one whose livelihood had been tied to them for years. The severance payments were not legally required, but they were not well beyond the obligation.
[The main halachic discussion was about the parameters of beit din obligating a side to pay beyond the letter of the law. We will bring just the very basic ideas.] The gemara does tell stories where beit din ordered someone to pay beyond the letter of the law, especially to workers, and the Beit Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 12 cites opinions on whether these are halachic precedents. The Acharonim, including those of recent times, have sided with the opinions that beit din can do so, especially when there is a clear moral obligation involved.Beit din required def to add another 33% onto the severance pay so that the sum came out to be somewhere between a third and a half of a year’s salary.
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