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Shabbat Parashat Pinchas 5780

P'ninat Mishpat: Receiving Pay for Hours Not Taught

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) is a teacher at a school that is publicly funded (­=def). Def told pl that he would teach 26 hours a week this year (a standard full-time position, which is what he usually taught, is 24 hours), and pl claims to have understood that the extra hours were like any others. Def did not at first succeed in finding a place in the school schedule for the extra hours, and pl asked to find them, so that he would not lose the right to have the hours. Otherwise, he would have looked for part-time teaching in other schools, as he did in the past. Def claim that the offer of pay beyond a full-time salary was conditional on government funding for them, which they had hoped would come from a fund called “extra for a personal contract.” (When eligible, the teacher gets paid for extra hours that he does not teach, but def demands that recipients put in the extra time.) Because pl had decided to take other incentives from the Department of Education, he was no longer eligible for this incentive and could not get paid for the extra hours. There are no written agreements or exchanges between pl and def on this matter.


Ruling: If there was a commitment to providing these extra hours, is def bound to it when the situation changed (i.e., loss of eligibility) after the time of the commitment? Regarding a commitment to buy/sell, followed by a change in price, there are two opinions as to whether it is morally permitted to back out (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 204:11). The S’ma (ad loc.) says that the same is true for a commitment to employ.

However, when a worker starts the job, commitments become binding (Shulchan Aruch, CM 333:2). This is either based on the assumption that it is difficult to find a new job or based on obligation. Even if pl did not start working the extra hours, all of the employment, with all the stated conditions, form one unit.

Usually, if one is obligated toward a worker, but the worker does not end up needing to work, there is a reduction from the pay because of the benefit of the free time. The Rama (CM 335:1) says that this is not true of a Torah teacher, and two reasons are given: 1. it is a pleasure to teach Torah; 2. teachers do not enjoy time off. While in this case (a general studies teacher), there is a difference between the reasons, we accept both reasons as grounds to give full pay, especially in a case like this in which pl was more adamant about the teaching than the money.

The question thus is about what commitment was made. Def argued that pl should have understood that the extra hours were dependent on the special fund, but they never said that they told him so. Therefore, we cannot accept that the extra hours could be considered conditional, as conditions need to be stated, not understood. In general, we must criticize def’s policy of taking money given to them to pass on to certain teachers and making it conditional on extra work that the Department of Education did not require.   

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