Our accounting firm employs people in other countries, but with today's technology, our clients are generally under the impression that they are being served by local people. This innovation keeps our costs down, enabling us to offer a competitive rate for a good service. We pay the workers per hour, and we expect them to work 24 hours each week. Yet they enjoy the flexibility to choose when to clock in their hours. This is facilitated by a "work center", where our workers will clock in and clock out.

This arrangement has raised some Halachic issues:

1) Due to the time difference, a client of ours could receive an email that gives the impression that it was dispatched on Shabbat, when in truth it was sent from a different time zone, before or after Shabbat.

2) At present, our flexibility arrangement allows the workers to clock in when it is actually Shabbat where they are.

3) Some of our workers are located in Israel. What should be our position regarding the second day of Yom Tov, which is a regular workday in Israel?

Work Done on Shabbat

In a previous article, we discussed paying a non-Jewish waiter for the services rendered on Shabbat. If, however, we wish to employ the non-Jew for to perform melachah, tasks that we are forbidden to carry out ourselves on Shabbat, we will have to distinguish between a sachir and a kablon. Simply put, the sachir is paid for his time, whereas the kablan's fee is based upon the job. The non-Jewish kablan is seen as self-employed, and may therefore perform melachah on Shabbat. Conversely, the sochir is seen as your employee, and consequently, he may not do melachah for you on Shabbat. (See O.C. #244)

In our case, we discuss one who is paid for his time, but has the option to choose when to put in those hours. Is he considered as a sachir or as a kablan?

Some authorities are quite clear that such a worker is a sachir, and it is not acceptable for him or her to work on Shabbat. The rationale can be worded so: The kablan arrangement focuses on the job to be done; this creates a “divide” between the employer and the worker. The sachir arrangement, by contrast, maintains an ongoing relationship between the employer and the worker. Therefore the non-Jew may not work for a Jewish employer on Shabbat.1

A similar question is discussed by the late head of the London rabbinical court, Rabbi Henoch Padwa Z"L2:

A manufacturer of clothing gives work to people which they will do at home. He pays them per day, and gives them work for six days. Is it a problem for the employer if the workers to choose to do their work on Shabbat?

After a careful analysis, Rav Padwa concludes that these workers have the status of kablan, and the employer need not worry about when they do their work. This is because the workers have been given a specific amount of work to complete. Therefore, the fact that the payment is calculated by a per-hour basis is immaterial (pardon the pun). The sachir model would apply were the workers expected to work through material for a given amount of time, without specifying how much they need to complete during that time slot.

Coming back to our accounting firm: I am assuming that the workload given to these overseas workers is not clearly quantified, but rather, they are presented with a pile of work, and they plough through as much as they can during their hours of work. This is a sachir model, and may not be in operation over Shabbat. Accordingly, instructions will have to be given that the workers may not clock in work on Shabbat.

Which brings us to the next question: To which time-zone does this restriction apply? Shabbat of the employer or of the location of the employee? My inclination is to follow the time-zone of the employer.3

Regarding emails: it would be prudent to avoid them being dispatched in a manner that gives the impression that they were sent in a forbidden manner.

Second Day Yom Tov

Some rule that a Jew in the Diaspora may allow his Jewish workers in Eretz Yisrael to do melachah for him on the second day of Yom Tov. Their rationale is that the basis of our keeping two days of Yom Tov in the Diaspora is due to the historic state of doubt, whereby the faraway communities did not know which day had been designated as Rosh Chodesh.

Now, imagine that a Jew in Babylon writes to his colleague in Israel: "On this-and-this day, I will not know if it is Yom Tov or not, but you will know. If you know that that day isn't Yom Tov, please carry out this-and-this melachah on my behalf." This seems to be perfectly in order! Indeed, our scenario is not so different.4

Development of Premises by Non-Jewish Contractors

The aforementioned allowance for the kablan applies to work done discreetly, where a passerby will not associate the work done with a Jewish employer. It does not apply to real estate, and therefore, non-Jewish builders may not work on Shabbat in a Jewish-owned property.5

The reason for this is marit ayin; passersby may assume that the workers are being paid by the day, and since they know that the owner is a Jew, they will wrongly accuse him of activities which are forbidden on Shabbat.

If, however, the building site is beyond the techum of where Jewish families reside, a kablan contractor may work on Shabbat for a Jew. This may also apply where the site is technically within the techum, but is practically beyond walking distance from where Jews live.6

Disclaimer: The above is for general knowledge of halachah, but for specific guidance in a given situation, make sure to consult your local Orthodox rabbi.