Shabbat Parashat Ki Tisa | 5769
Firing or Worsening a Teacher’s Work Conditions During the Year
Based on Halacha Psuka 54- A Condensation of Techumin X, pp. 204-215
Case: The plaintiff (=pl) is a teacher at the defendant (=def), a school belonging to a private school system. Pl’s contract includes the following provisions. “The last day to inform about layoffs is as accepted among education workers.” “Based on the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling, our teachers do not receive tenured positions but may be rehired to one-year contracts; in some cases, they can be fired in the middle of the year.” After the normal date of notification, def informed pl that he would be moved from his present position to a more difficult one. Pl claims that this is tantamount to firing, and that he thus deserves to be paid for the year. The possibility of firing a teacher in the middle of a school year contradicts the general teachers’ contract, and the law is that rights that emanate from general contracts supersede provisions of individual contracts. Def responds that the general contract applies to teachers in the various formats of public schools, whereas def is a private school system, which is entitled to make its own rules of employment.
Ruling: The Shulchan Aruch (CM 333:2) says that a worker who starts working for a fixed time period and is fired is paid for the entire period; if he is a teacher, he is paid in full despite his “vacation time” (ibid. 334:4). On the other hand, one may replace a teacher with a better teacher (Bava Batra 21a). The Aruch Hashulchan says that the gemara applies even within an employment period. The Minchat Yitzchak says that it is true only in situations where teachers were hired on a daily basis. A father could decide to hire someone new instead of “rehiring” the old teacher; it was not considered firing. In contrast, in our setting, removing them during a period is problematic. Furthermore, the Aruch Hashulchan would agree when a kinyan such as a contract was done.
We follow the personal contract despite the general law against firing because the law may create a standard procedure, but this can be overcome by an explicit personal agreement. Also, the Education Ministry accepts def’s claim that the general contract does not apply to private networks.
The Shulchan Aruch rules that one can terminate a teacher prematurely only when he is deficient. There is no grounds to say that pl is deficient. However, according to the majority ruling’s interpretation of the contract, the administration is authorized to fire based on its judgment of what is best for the students’ welfare, and it certainly may change the teacher’s task, even for the worse. This is apparent from the fact that the contact does not state an end to the employment period. Even if the clause can be understood in different ways, pl, whose rights would be a result of the contract, would have to prove that his reading is the correct one. Therefore, def may remove pl from his post and is required to compensate him at that point only according to the normal minhag of severance pay.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.