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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5778

P'ninat Mishpat: Payment for a Teachers Increased and Decreased Work

(based on ruling 70054 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) teaches and does some administrational work at the X Yeshiva (=def), which was undergoing hard times. The new rosh yeshiva (=RY) asked pl to increase his administrational and recruiting work over the summer. There is no written record of a promise of increased pay, but RY confirms it and def denies they agreed. Def paid 7,000 + shekels as “a compromise”; pl demands 4000 shekels * 4 months, as promised. The next year, def cut back 3 hours from pl’s regular administrative duties. Pl claims that this was without due process and demands a return of that pay. Def says that there is no tenure on hours beyond a full-time job, which pl still enjoys. Def counterclaims that in reviewing pl’s records, they discovered that he was significantly overpaid compared to the Education Department’s pay scale. Def wants to subtract this amount from any award beit din may rule in pl’s favor. Pl claims late fees for the withheld parts of the salary due to him, as prescribed by the Law to Protect Wages.     


Ruling: First, we point out that as a rule, a yeshiva administration is bound by the monetary commitments its rosh yeshiva makes to workers. If the rosh yeshiva’s decision is overruled, it ceases its efficacy as of that time, regarding matters that are not too late to stop. Workers cannot be held hostages by disagreements between a rosh yeshiva and the yeshiva board.

Def’s claim that they knew that pl was expanding his involvement but did not approve an increase in pay, is strange. There is no reason to expect a worker to significantly increase his workload for free, unless he explicitly volunteers. If it was unclear to def how much RY had promised pl, they should have asked.

Def was obligated to pay approximately 9,000 shekels more than they had paid, and they refused to do so for years. Since the Torah is very firm against withholding a worker’s wages, we choose to penalize def for this, as the law prescribes, a sum of 2,500 shekels.

Regarding the reduction of 3 hours of administrational pay, it is true that def can reduce the workload if the employee remains a full-time worker. However, regarding the first year that the reduction was in force, def informed pl too late (education workers must be told of any changes by the May preceding the incoming school year). The step is more egregious in regard to administrational work of the type pl had, as pl’s position apparently required doing the same basic job for less pay. Nevertheless regarding the second year in dispute, since pl knew in advance what work he would be doing and his salary after the reduction and he continued to do it, he cannot demand more money than what he was told he would get.

Regarding return of extra money, it is halachically difficult to say that one paid too much by mistake (see Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Choshen Mishpat 126:13). This is especially the case when def, like other schools, is in the practice of paying workers whose employment is important to them, more than the Education Department sets down. The payment also went on for a long time. Thus, we assume that the amount pl received was decided by def to compensate pl appropriately, not a mistake.  

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