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The Obligation to Pay Workers on Time

The Obligation to Pay Workers on Time

Parshat Kedoshim

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In two places, the Torah specifies that one must pay one's worker on the day that he completes his work. In Leviticus,1 the verse states, "You shall not leave [with you] the payment of a worker overnight until the morning." In Deuteronomy,2 the verse states, "On his day you should give his wages, the sun should not set on it, because he is a poor man and his life depends on it…"

The Talmud explains that the first verse is referring to a day worker who completes his work at the end of the day. In this case, the employer must pay him before sunrise of the following day. The second verse is referring to a night worker who completes his work at daybreak, in which case the employer has until the following nightfall to pay him.3

In a case where the work is completed before the end of the day, the employer only has until nightfall to pay. Similarly, if the work is completed in middle of the night, he must pay the employee before morning.4

One should complete mitzvot on the day the opportunity to fulfill them arisesThe Torah recognizes that often a worker is in urgent need of his wages; he needs to feed himself and/or his family. To postpone paying him may cause him distress and, in some cases, death.5 In addition, by keeping this mitzvah we train ourselves to be compassionate and kind. This, in turn, prepares us to accept G‑d's goodness.6

Another explanation is that, in general, one should complete mitzvot on the day the opportunity to fulfill them arises. Therefore, one should not put off the mitzvah of paying one's worker to the next day.7

The Details

This mitzvah applies to all employees, whether male or female, adult or child,8 rich or poor, religious or non-religious,9 Jewish or non-Jewish.10

It also applies when paying rent for an object or animal.11 Some authorities say the mitzvah applies to paying rent on real estate as well, while others disagree.12

This mitzvah applies to workers whose salaries are determined by the year, month, day, or hour, and also to contracted workers. In the case of a worker who has a set payday, the obligation comes into play on that day.13 In the case of a contracted worker, the employer must pay on the day that the work is completed.

If the worker forgoes the timely receipt of his paycheck, either explicitly or implicitly (simply by not asking for the money), the employer need not pay that day.14

If the employer didn't pay on the proper day, either because he wasn't obligated to (as above) or because he defaulted on his obligation, there is no longer a Torah obligation to pay before the next sundown or sunrise. Nevertheless, if one has the money and does not pay, he transgresses the commandment of the prophets,15 "Do not say to your fellow, 'Go and return, and tomorrow I will give,' though you have it with you."16

If one cannot afford to pay all of his workers, he should divide what he has among them. If one worker is poor and the other is not, the poor employee should receive precedence.17 Precedence should not be given, however, to an employee solely on the basis of his being a family member of the employer.18

One should try to pay before the sun sets. If one missed that time, he should pay before the stars become visible.

Exceptions

If one cannot afford to pay all of his workers, he should divide what he has among them
  • If the employer has no money to pay, he's exempt from the mitzvah.19 As soon as the employer has the money, he must use it to pay his employee.20
  • Nevertheless, it is considered praiseworthy for one to borrow money to be able to do this mitzvah.21 In fact, the Arizal would personally borrow money from people to be able to pay an employee on the proper day. Occasionally, this would even cause him to pray the afternoon prayer of Mincha late.22
  • If the employer has merchandise that he can sell without a significant financial loss, he must do so in order to pay his employee on time.23 If selling the merchandise would cause him a significant loss, he need not do so.24
  • If the person who hired the employee is not the one who is responsible to pay him, and he made this point clear at the time of hiring, neither the person who hired nor the actual employer is obligated by this particular law.25 Similarly, if a father did the hiring and then passed away and his son inherited the company, this law does not apply to the son.26 (Of course, in both cases, the employer must pay as soon as he can, but the rule of paying before nightfall, etc., doesn't apply.)
  • This law applies to the manager of a company, even though he doesn't own the company27 (unless he stated to the employee at the outset that the payment was not his responsibility, as explained above).
  • Some authorities say that this mitzvah doesn't apply to work done on Friday, while others disagree. It is best to follow the more stringent opinion and pay on that Friday.28

Reward and Punishment

A worker invests the energy of his soul into his work. His wages symbolically represent that energy and are therefore considered like his soul. One who pays on time is giving the worker (and, by extension, the workers' family) his soul and is rewarded with long life for himself and his family. Conversely, if one does not pay on time, his life is shortened (G‑d forbid) both in this world and in the World to Come.29

By keeping this mitzvah, one merits the "extra soul" of Shabbat. In fact, he receives it not only on Shabbat itself, but also during the week. This is alluded to by the fact that the first letters of "biyomo titen scharo" ("on his day he must pay") are bet, tav and shin—the same letters that spell Shabbat.30

Footnotes
1.

19:13.

2.

24:15.

3.

Bava Metzia 110b.

4.

Ibid., 111a.

5.

Nachmanides and Ohr HaChaim on Deuteronomy ibid.

6.

Chinuch, Mitzvah 588.

7.

Zohar, Kedoshim 85a.

8.

Responsa of Rashba 3:99. Ahavat Chessed (by the Chafetz Chaim) 9:3.

9.

Talmud, ibid., 111b.

10.

Sefer HaMitzvot 200. But see Minchat Chinuch on Mitzvah 231 and S'dei Chemed ibid. who question Maimonides' opinion on this matter.

11.

Talmud, ibid., 111a. Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchot She'aylah U'sechirut VaChatimah 11.

12.

See ibid. with Imrei Yakov.

13.

See Shulchan Aruch HaRav, ibid., end of Halachah 12.

14.

Ibid. based on Talmud, ibid., 111a and 112a.

16.

Talmud, ibid.; Shulchan Aruch HaRav ,ibid.

17.

Ahavat Chesed 9:8.

18.

Ibid. 10:9.

19.

Talmud, ibid., 112a, Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid., 15.

20.

See Ahavat Chessed 9:9.

21.

Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid., 18.

22.

Likutei Torah ibid.

23.

Ahavat Chessed 9:7, based on the Ritva.

24.

Chinuch Mitzvah 588, based on Talmud, Shabbat 127b.

25.

Talmud, Bava Mitzia 110b, Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid. 17.

26.

Ahavat Chessed 9:6.

27.

Ibid., 10:4.

28.

See S'dei Chemed ibid., Chinuch 588.

29.

Ibid. See also Ohr HaChaim ibid.

30.

Likutei Torah of the Arizal in Ta'amei HaMitzvot Parshat Kedoshim on Leiticus. ibid. See S'dei Chemed vol. 1 pg. 196d that the first man – Adam – worked on Friday by plowing, planting, etc. The wages that G‑d awarded him was the extra soul of Shabbat.

Rabbi Aryeh Citron was educated in Chabad yeshivahs in Los Angeles, New York, Israel and Australia. He was the Rosh Kollel of The Shul of Bal Harbour, Florida, and is now an adult Torah teacher in Surfside, Florida. He teaches classes on Talmud, Chassidism, Jewish history and contemporary Jewish law.
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