Pay In The Cold – Paint In The Warm!

Question

Pini
the Painter specialises in exterior decorating. During the winter,
business is slack. In order to improve his cashflow, Pini wishes to offer
a substantial discount to those who order and pay for decorating in the
winter, the actual work being performed in the summer. Is this permitted?


Answer

Our Sages inform us (Tractate Bovo Basro 86b)
that it is forbidden to hire and pay a worker in advance in the winter in
order to perform the job in the summer, if he receives a lower rate of pay
because of the advance payment. Workers usually receive four dinars
for a day’s work during the season. He agrees to prepayment at the rate
of one dinar per day. Since he is repaying the advance of one dinar
per day with four dinar’s work per day when the season arrives,
this looks like a form of interest (agar netar). However, there is
a permitted method of making a reduced prepayment. The employer can say to
the worker that he wishes to employ him from today (in the winter) till
the end of the season (in summer). He gives him a rate of pay which is
less than it would have been if he had only started employing him if the
season had already arrived. For example, if the season lasts thirty days
and the daily rate of pay is four dinars, the worker’s total
wages would amount to 120 dinars. He decides to start employing the
worker long before the beginning of the season, at the rate of one dinar
per day. The worker is employed for a total of 100 days, receiving only
100 dinars. Since he entered employment immediately, his reduced
wage is considered to be – just a reduced wage! The semblance to
forbidden interest does not exist because there is no time gap between
receiving payment and starting work. 

There is a difference of opinion
amongst the acharonim (later commentaries) whether this period of
employment must be continuous. Rav Breisch (Chelkas Ya’akov, Vol.
3, No. 205) does not require this period to be continuous. What is
important is that the worker enters employment immediately. Rav Blau (Bris
Yehudah
, Chapter 26) does require that the worker be employed
continuously till the season arrives. The Rashbo (to Bovo Basro)
suggests a different solution. When a person rents land, it is permitted
for him to pay a reduced rental fee if he pays in advance. Why does this
not pose a problem of looking like ribbis? The answer is that the
deal is irreversible from the moment the deal is made; the landlord is
unable to back out. The tenant receives a right to the land from the
beginning, even though he is only going to start using the land at a later
date. There is no time at which the tenant has given money without
receiving anything in return. Similarly, if a worker agrees to work for an
employer at a later date and seals the agreement in a way which prevents
him from backing out, there should be no problem if he accepts a reduced
prepayment for his future work. His employer has received an irreversible
contract in exchange for advancing the wages. Is it possible to lock a
worker into such a contract? This is the subject of a major discussion
amongst the acharonim (see Shach to Choshen Mishpot
333, Note 14, K’tzos Hachoshen 333:5). Many are of the opinion
that if a halachically valid kinyan is made, the worker has no
right to back out of the deal (see Shvus Ya’acov, 2:184). 

Accordingly, if the worker made such a binding agreement, there would be
no problem if he received an advance payment of reduce wages even if he
did not start work immediately. It is important to note that the problem
only exists with a worker who is hired on an hourly or daily basis. One
who is paid by the job may take a reduced prepayment since all are agreed
that he is irreversibly bound by his agreement with the employer (see Remo
to Choshen Mishpot, 333:1). Thus, Pini the Painter may go ahead
with his offer!