Shabbat Parashat Terumah| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
(Due to the nature of this important question, this week we will only present the first leg of communictions between an architect and us to clarify the issues. Our final response will come next week. Read the question well, as it is as important as any answer. Please save this page, as we will only summarize the question briefly next week).
Question: I am an architect, who routinely hires consultants (structural engineers, etc.) in order to draw up safe, complete plans. I did a rather small plan on a structure that required, as stated in the client’s contract, consultation with engineers. It turned out that the engineers’ work, which turned out to be crucial, cost close to my own charge for the plans. The client has refused to pay for their work, saying that he doesn’t accept that a simple job should require such elaborate consultation and that he suspects we are “sticking him” unjustifiably. Usually, an architect does not pay his consultants until the money comes in, a practice about which I have some qualms. Should I pay the engineers out of my own pocket? They (devout, ethical non-Jews) have kindly told me that they want me to get paid before they do, but I want to do the right thing. On the other hand, at this stage in my career, the loss I would incur by paying would be a sizable chunk of my earnings, money I can use for family needs.
Answer: We salute you in the most enthusiastic terms for your resolve to do the right thing. According to halacha, you certainly are not required to pay someone who is willing to forgo payment, at least in the meantime. But business ethics is a matter that needs strengthening, and it is proper to do the right thing even when one has an excuse not to, including that the money can be used for good things. If more people would think like you (hopefully, many already do and/or will), then we can look forward to people referring to Jewish businessmen as “the devout, ethical, Jewish type.” We trust Hashem to enable us to support our families, while not working on Shabbat, paying for Jewish education, etc. So too we should sanctify His name by doing the morally right thing and trust Him to enable us to survive and even prosper in this world and to pay our reward in the world to come. Practically speaking, as well, a reputation for integrity is a good investment, and you deserve one.
We need to clarify the following before answering.
Do you serve as a trusted middleman between clients and consultants, or do you hire the consultants on your own and use their charges to justify your total charge?
Do you make any stipulations with your consultants on conditions? Are there clear standards among architects and engineers regarding questions of partial or non-payments?Do you feel you were at all negligent in your handling of the work done by the engineers and the preparation of the client for the possibility of a larger than expected payment? If so, how?
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