Worker’s Diet – At whose Expense?  

Question

Berel looks like a barrel! Concerned about his
constantly expanding waistline, he decides to consult the doctor. After
doing various tests, the doctor informs him that he is suffering from high
blood pressure, as well as other ills. It is essential for Berel to
immediately embark on a strict diet. Left with no other choice, Berel
listens to the doctor, but soon finds his diet is having a negative
influence on his performance at work. Without the pizza-injections of
energy he easily gets tired. His brain does not respond so quickly any
more since it has been deprived of chocolate stimulants. Does he have to
discuss the changed situation with the boss, or should he just try and do
his best under the circumstances?


Answer

The Rambam writes (Laws of Hiring, Chapter 13:6-7)
that a worker may not work for one employer during the day and another (or
himself) at night. Similarly, it is forbidden for him to starve himself or
cause himself any form of physical suffering. This type of conduct is
forbidden because it impairs the employee’s ability to carry out his
duties to the best of his ability. The Rambam states that this type of
conduct is considered stealing form the employer. Not only is the Torah
particular about workers’ rights, which include the right to be paid
full wages on time, but it also stresses the worker’s duty to fulfill
his obligations to the employer. A worker can waste a tremendous amount of
time if he just takes a few minutes to do this and that several times a
day! Our sages went so far as to exempt workers from reciting the fourth
blessing of the Birkas HaMozon (Grace after meals) in order to avoid
wasting the boss’ time (this exemption does not apply nowadays – see
Sema, Note 40 to Choshen Mishpot 337). One should take an example from our
forefather, Ya’acov, who told his wives, “I served your father with
all my strength!” The Remo (333:5) adds that teachers are considered
workers for these purposes. They must also ensure that they do not engage
in any activities which impair their ability to teach. Should they persist
with such behavior, the boss has the right to dismiss them (as in the case
with any other worker – Biur HaGro 29).

What does a worker do if he finds he is not earning
enough from his day job and needs to work at night as well in order to
support his family? As we have learned above, he may not take on an
additional job if this is going to impair his ability to carry out his
duties towards his existing employer. He must discuss the situation with
the boss and, hopefully, come to some agreement about future conditions of
employment. Our friend, Berel, is in a similar situation. In order to
preserve his health, he must keep up his diet – but not at the boss’
expense! He should discuss the situation with the boss, who will adjust
his duties and earnings accordingly. Perhaps obesity is recognized as an
illness and therefore Berel is entitled to some sort of sickness benefit?
(This would depend on local custom – see Remo 333:5)

Tosafos
(Bovo Basro 2a) warns us that not everything that people commonly do falls
into the category of a minhag (custom). It is unfortunately all too common
that employees use the employer’s property – and time – for their
own private purposes simply because “everyone does it”. In many cases,
the only reason why the boss does not object to such practices is in order
to avoid provoking a strike! Lack of objection does not constitute
approval! If you think the boss does not mind your making an
occasional private phone call, why not make sure this is the case by
asking him?