Who is Entitled to the Pesach Bonus?

Question

  1. At Menachem’s Magnificent Machine factory, the workers usually
    receive a pre-Pesach bonus. Boruch worked at the factory for most of the
    winter, but left before Purim. Chaim started working at the factory at the
    beginning of Adar. Are they entitled to the bonus?

  2. Penina,
    a kindergarten teacher, worked from Elul to Chanukah.  After Chanukah, she decided to take some time off. 
    Is she entitled to the special gift that other kindergarten
    teachers receive before Pesach? Penina was replaced by Mina. Does Mina
    receive the gift, even though she only worked for half the winter?

Answer

Whenever
a person is employed without a detailed contract being drawn up, the rule
is that the terms of employment are assumed to be in accordance with the
standard terms applicable in that sector of the market in that particular
location (minhag hamedinah). If
no standard practice exists (or is unclear) and the halachah does not
specifically deal with the issue, we have to investigate the underlying
reason for the custom.

Why
do employers make a pre-Pesach bonus payment to their workers? It would
seem that the reason is to assist their employees with their extra
festival expenses. Therefore, only a worker who is actually in employment
immediately before Pesach is entitled to this bonus. A worker who had been
employed for many years, but left before Pesach, is not entitled to this
bonus.

To
be paid wages while on vacation is another form of worker’s benefit.
However, this benefit is related to the amount of time that the worker has
actually worked for his employer. Let us say that a worker is entitled to
three weeks of paid leave per year as a reward for his efforts on behalf
of the employer. A worker who was employed for only six months would be
entitled to a week and a half of paid leave. However, even if the custom
is to take this paid leave in the summer, a worker who was employed
throughout the winter and then left would be entitled to his share of
“holiday wages”. He has put in six months’ effort on behalf of the
employer.

Sometimes
the bonus is paid in the form of a “thirteenth month” payment, half
being paid before Pesach and half before Succos. A worker who was only
employed for the first three months of the winter would still be entitled
to half of the Pesach bonus, the equivalent of a quarter of the
“thirteenth month”, in proportion to the time he actually worked.

It
therefore follows that if the pre-Pesach bonus takes the form of a gift
for the festival (whether in money or in kind), only those who are on the
payroll just before Pesach are entitled to receive it. Chaim, who only
started work at the beginning of Adar will receive the gift. Boruch, who
stopped work before Purim, will not, even if he had been employed at the
factory for many years!

If
the custom is to pay workers a bonus in the form of paid leave or a
“thirteenth month”, we take into account the period of time each
worker has actually been employed. Both Boruch and Chaim would then be
entitled to a payment, Boruch receiving a much larger sum than Chaim since
he worked for a longer period of time. Should there be a minimum
qualification period for receiving a bonus (say, three months), Chaim
would not receive any bonus for Pesach. The same rules would apply to the
kindergarten teacher. A special gift that is given before Pesach is
usually a way of assisting employees with their festival expenses.
Therefore, Penina, who stopped work at Chanukah, is not entitled to
receive it; Mina, who replaced her, does get the gift.

It
is always advisable to discuss these matters before starting work in order to avoid unnecessary friction. A
written contract should be drawn up, stating exactly how much paid leave
is due and under what terms other bonuses are payable. In the absence of
such a contract, local custom in this field prevails, although this may
not always be clear!