Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I do editing work for papers that are being presented for acceptance by scholarly publications. I am trying to work out a system for charging which is fair both for my clients and for me. The problem is that it is very difficult to anticipate how long a given paper will take to edit. I think that the most equitable system is to charge by the hour, but most clients demand to know a fixed rate in advance. So, I usually charge according to a system I have developed for estimates. However, sometimes I receive significantly less than I deserve, because the work was more difficult than anticipated, while other times, the opposite is true. I feel bad taking more than I deserve, but if I return money when I came out ahead and don’t ask for more when I estimate to my detriment, I’ll be losing out. What should I do?
Answer: Our favorite questions are monetary ones that are asked not to try to gain money but to make sure that the money a person has is rightfully his.
The halachic issue involved is ona’ah (overpricing), a Torah prohibition with monetary applications, including returning the extra money or voiding the agreement when the ona’ah is significant enough. Among the cases where the full laws do not apply are the sale of land and the wages of a worker, which are indirectly compared to the former (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 227: 29,33). However, when one is paid by the job (as you usually are) and not by time, then the Shulchan Aruch (ibid.:36) rules that the regular laws apply. In truth, even regarding lands, the prohibition of overpricing applies, with the difference being in the monetary ramifications. Since you want to do the right thing, such a leniency is irrelevant for you.
You imply that one might look at the fairness of pricing on average over the course of the business, in general, as opposed to the appropriateness of each, individual fee. Of course, if we determine that a certain price is unfairly high, it doesn’t help that someone else got the better of you a different time. Even if the same person got a good deal in the past, if you decided not to demand compensation at the time (thus, being mochel), you cannot make up for it by charging too much later. However, the fact that you often underprice is cogent for the following reason.
Overpricing is forbidden when one goes beyond the accepted range of prices. Several factors help determine what the range is. One of them is the chance that the work will be much greater than average. Consider the following example. A taxi driver usually receives $40 on his meter to take someone to midtown
Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend
This edition of Hemdat Yamim is