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Q&A: Skip a Pay Day

June 17, 2014

Question: Avi, I love reading your blog….. I work as the assistant to the CEO of a small **** company in Jerusalem, and recently a co-worker left the company after a contract dispute. I was not involved, although I was aware of the whole story. Weeks later, my boss told me that when I was mailing everyone’s paychecks, I should take my former co-worker’s check and hide it in my desk and not send it to him. Do I have listen to my boss, or should I send it anyways?

Answer: Your question involves a number of Torah prohibitions. Since your boss has put you in such a position, it shows that he is not the type of person you should be working for, and if you can find a different job, that would be the best. The sages said, “Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbor.” Explanation: hanging out with bad guys is only going to get you in trouble. The first prohibition involved is “halanath s’char sachir,” not paying an employee on time. In Talmudic times, day laborers were to be paid at the end of every work day; nowadays the halacha accepts the societal convention that workers are to be paid monthly. One who purposefully does not pay an employee on time violates this prohibition. Had your boss not involved you, the sin would be his entirely. However, by using his authority to tell you to deprive this man (woman?) of his wages, he is violating another prohibition, “lifnei iwer,” placing an obstacle before the blind, which is figurative for misleading others into sinning. The sages declared “ein shaliah lidvar aveira,” there is no agent with regards to a sinful matter, which means two things: when one sins on the instructions of another, he cannot claim innocence because he was merely doing what the other told him. “Whose words would you heed? The Master’s, or the pupil’s?” That is, when it comes to deciding what to do, you need to heed The Master’s Torah, and not some mortal’s instructions. Secondly, it means that the entire body of laws relating to shlihuth, agency, do not apply to a case where the agent was carrying out a sinful act. There is also the issue of Tochaha, reproof. You should first appeal to your boss, and remind him that his intention is to violate both the Torah and the law of the land. If he persists, and the envelope with the check is already under your responsibility, you may have a duty to send it to its rightful recipient. You certainly may not go along with your boss’s instructions to hide it, although you might be able to avoid punishment under both sets of laws. Rabbi Herschel Schachter has said many times that it is unfortunate that federal prisons have numerous observant, white-collar, Jewish criminals who got involved in things like this. You do not want to end up with your boss in one of those glatt-kosher penitentiaries, nor do you want to go through the more likely embarrassment of a civil lawsuit when your former colleague decides that he would really like to be paid.

I pray that God give you the strength to withstand this and any other ethical trials you may face.



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One Comment
  1. Very informative post. Thank you for writing about this.

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