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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5768

The Status of a Contract That Was Violated

P'ninat Mishpat

The Status of a Contract That Was Violated

(based on Halacha Psuka, vol. 43 - a condensation of a p’sak of Beit Hadin Mishpat V’Halacha B’Yisrael)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) was hired to rent hotel rooms and organize an English language program at a hotel (=def) for a certain season for a base salary of $12,000 for 500 guests and a bonus for additional guests. The contract required pl to work a day and a half a week at the hotel offices and required def not to rent rooms independent of what pl brought in until a certain date. Pl did not work in the hotel offices and appeared to be behind schedule in finding guests. Def started renting rooms before the date they were supposed to and, at a certain point, informed pl that their deal was void. Nevertheless, the relationship went on, and pl ran a program for more than 500 guests, some of whom he solicited and some whom he did not. Pl demands payment of the full base salary.

Ruling: Both litigants violated the terms of the contract, by not working at the offices and by starting renting out early, respectively. However, this did not prompt either side to break off the working relationship. This leads to two possible solutions. One can view the matter as a worker working without a contract, which requires some objective estimation of his work’s value. Alternatively, one can try to evaluate the work done with the help of the contract. Beit din decided on the latter.

The Shulchan Aruch (CM 331:3) says that if one hires a worker and tells him that he will be paid like the people of the city, he receives according to the average of the lower and the higher salaries. The K’tzot Hachoshen (331:3) points out that although when salary was not discussed, a worker receives according to the lowest pay scale, when they agree on the local going rate, he receives according to the average. Therefore, beit din can use the agreement between the parties to arrive at a model of the level of compensation that is appropriate under the circumstances. Applying this to our case, even if the contract cannot be used to determine the exact salary, as it was not complied with, it can serve as a guide to determine the worth of the work.

The contract does not delineate the breakup of the payment between solicitation and running the program, but clearly, the latter constitutes the larger part. In practice, the hotel’s occupancy met the standards that were required of pl. The issue is that def obtained many of the reservations. On the other hand, part of that was caused by the fact that def started renting out before the contract allowed them to do so. Therefore, the reservations secured by def during the time of pl’s exclusive rights should be credited to pl. Since 500 guests were secured by then, pl met his quota. Pl is not entitled to the bonus for more than 500 guests since that depended on pl’s actual success in securing reservations. Thus, pl gets the full base salary and no more.

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld


 Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of

Max and Mary Sutker

 and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

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