Giving The Candy On Time

Question

It was after ma’ariv on Motzo’ei Shabbos. The gabbai looked with exasperation
at the piles of seforim all over the shul. How was he going to get them back into their
places on the shelves? Then with a sweet he spotted Meir’le, a sweet nine year old
tooth! "If you clear up all the seforim I will give you a jumbo-sized bag of your
favourite candy," said the gabbai. Meir’le set to work eagerly. By the time he
had finished the job, the gabbai had already gone home. The days passed – and no
candy! Is the gabbai guilty of (a) not paying a worker on time (b) not paying him at all?


Answer

The Rambam writes in Chapter 11 of the Laws of Hiring, Paragraph 6, that if a
worker claims his wages at the time they are due and the employer counters that he has
already paid him, the worker can collect his wages if he takes an oath to support his
claim. This even applies if the worker is a minor. The Maggid Mishneh explains that on
this occasion we accept the oath of a minor, since its only function is to reassure the
employer. Strictly speaking, the worker should be able to collect his wages without any
oath, the assumption being that an employer does not pay his workers before the time such
payment is due. The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chessed, Chapter 9, Paragraph 5, Note 16
in the commentary) infers from the words of the Rambam that if the above dispute occurred
after the time for payment had already passed, the employer is the one who takes an oath
and is then exempt from paying. The assumption is that no one fails to pay his workers on
time. He adds that the Rambam also teaches us that all the laws that apply to payment of
adult workers, also apply to workers who are minors. Even if one promises a child some
insignificant reward for performing some small task, all the appropriate laws apply.

What are these laws? In Choshen Mishpot (339:2), the Shulchan Oruch writes that
one who fails to pay a worker has transgressed one positive and five negative Torah
commandments. These are listed by the Sema (No. 4). The Chofetz Chayim (Ibid, Note 30)
adds that if the employer pays most of the worker’s wages on time, but fails to pay
the last small amount (pruta), he is still guilty of all these sins!

When is payment due? Ideally, one should pay a worker immediately on completion
of work. A worker who works for part of the day must be paid before sunset. If he works
part of the night, payment must be made before sunrise. If he works till the very end of
the day or night, the employer has the next time period to make payment. Should he not pay
on time, he has transgressed the positive commandment to pay on time and the negative
commandment not to delay payment. Should he not pay him at all, he has also transgressed
the negative commandment of not withholding a worker’s wages, If the employer has no
money available, he does not transgress these sins. "Available" means that he
does not have access to funds. If he has no cash but can write a cheque on his bank
account, he is considered as having money available. The mishnah in Bovo Metzia,
informs us that the employer is only guilty of the above sins if the worker claimed
payment which he did not receive. Failing to make a claim is deemed to be agreement to
accept payment at a later date. However, the Chofetz Chayim writes (Ibid, Note 32)
that if a worker is inhibited from making a claim out of shyness, etc, this can not be
interpreted as agreement to delay payment.

THEREFORE, neither the fact that Meir’le did not claim his bag of
candy nor his being a minor, save the gabbai from transgressing the severe prohibitions of
not paying a worker on time or not at all. The same laws also apply to babysitters. Make
sure you have the right change when you arrive home after your night out!