Ethics

For the week ending 8 December 2018 / 30 Kislev 5779

Getting Paid for Downtime

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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QUESTION:

I work for a small Jewish company. Right now my boss is out of town for a week. He just married off his daughter and is staying away through the Sheva Berachot.

Meanwhile, many company projects are on hold. I have finished all the tasks previously assigned to me and have asked the VP for new work. But he has none for me. So, I have nothing to do — literally, “zero.”

According to halachah is there an issue with the money I am being paid for sitting at my desk and not working?

HALACHIC BACKGROUND

Our Sages teach that an employee who receives work from an employer must carry out the job in keeping with the wishes of the employer. If he fails to do so, he falls in the category of “cursed is the one who does G-d’s work dishonestly.” (Yirmiyahu 48:10)

Furthermore, the worker is obliged to be working for the employer’s maximum benefit — not with an eye to his own interests. The Meiri cites the case of a tailor cutting out fabric for a garment, and states that the tailor should be focused on producing the best possible product for the client, not on how to leave the largest possible fabric remnants for his own use.

The Meiri stresses that, above all, a worker must be honest and trustworthy: “All a person has is the good name which he earns through his actions. His deeds testify about him in this world and judge him in the World to Come.” (Meiri to Bava Kama 119b)

RESPONSE

You are to be commended for asking this question. You obviously have your employer’s interests at heart and are doing your utmost to be an honest employee.

But you have nothing to worry about. You are clearly following your employer’s wishes and not slacking off because you feel like it. In addition to having completed the work assigned to you, you have made it clear to the VP that you are ready, willing and able to take on other work, but it is he who has none for you. So, there is no issue regarding you accepting your salary.

There are times when companies face downtime, but it is obviously not to their benefit to dismiss employees when there is no work (unless the employees are specifically hired for seasonal labor). Therefore, most companies factor downtime into the cost of doing business.

As long as you are doing what they request (and right now they simply don’t have any requests), you are totally fine in getting paid.

And since you have “zero” to do, I suggest that you use this free time to study the “halachot of the workplace,” which will only serve to make you an even bigger asset to your employer.

· L’iluy nishmas Yehudah ben Shmuel HaKohen Breslauer

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