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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: How Much Acceptable Work Did the Worker Do? part I

(based on ruling 71071 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl), who led a staff of workers, was hired by the defendant (=def), an organization, to help in the realms of public relations/publications, fund raising, and procuring grants. Pl sent def a contract stating the areas of work and payment and asked them to sign. According to the contract, pl would send itemized reports of the work and get paid by the hour. Def never signed, but pl started working, after further discussion, and got paid the first month according to hours reported. After that month, def stopped paying, arguing that during the time pl claimed his staff worked, they did not do things they were supposed to. Specifically, pl was supposed to send grant requests to a few institutions; instead, they charged for using much of the time in making lists of grant-giving foundations, and this was done for other of pl’s clients. Pl claims that def approved this and that it was agreed he would be believed about the work done.


Ruling: In the case of a disagreement between a worker and an employer as to whether the worker has been paid, the worker has the upper hand (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 89:2). However, says the Aruch Hashulchan (CM 89:5), if the dispute is not about being paid but about the quality of the work, we follow the regular rule that the burden of proof is on the one who wants to extract money.

On the other hand, the Rashba applies to similar cases the idea that when one grants reliability to his counterpart, this is binding even when he stops believing him. Piskei Din Yerushalayim VIII, p. 198 says, based on this, that although initially the employer can change his mind, once the work began based on the promise of reliability, the agreement is binding.

The question is whether there was such an agreement here. While the contract pl sent included a provision that pay would be based on reported hours, an unsigned contract is not binding, even if its content was known to both parties and not rejected. One cannot prove from the fact that def paid for one month along the lines spelled out in the contract that the contract had been accepted as a condition for the work. While it was agreed orally that pl would be paid by the hour, and it is clear that only pl could report how many hours were put in, that does not mean that def gave credibility to pl’s report even in a case in which def doubted its veracity. However, since pl reported that they worked on putting together lists of grant-giving foundations and def accepted sufficiently the explanation of why it was reasonable to pay for that month, this was mechila of the right to reject that work as uncalled for. See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 126:13 and Aruch Hashulchan ad loc. 15, who posit that we do not easily enable one who paid to say that he was mistaken in doing so.

We will continue next time with other elements of the ruling.

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