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Aryeh sought a job out of the city. “I know someone who owns a small egg farm,” said a friend. “His worker is leaving; he’s looking for a replacement.”

“That sounds interesting,” said Aryeh. “What’s his name and number?”

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“His name is Mr. Farber,” said the friend. “I’ll text you his number.”

Aryeh called Mr. Farber and they arranged to try out the work. Aryeh spent a day with the other worker collecting the eggs.

“How was it?” asked Mr. Farber at the end of the day.

“It was fine,” said Aryeh. “I can do it!”

“I pay $9 an hour,” said Mr. Farber. “I’d like you to commit for a few months.”

“I can’t do that,” said Aryeh. “I have to see how things go.”

“Then how long can you commit for?” asked Mr. Farber.

“A month,” said Aryeh.

“OK,” said Mr. Farber. “We’ll do that.”

Aryeh worked for two days. “How is it going?” said Mr. Farber. “The other worker finishes tomorrow.”

“It’s fine,” said Aryeh. “I know the work.”

A week went by. Aryeh began finding the work lonely. “The work is lonely now that the other worker is not here,” he told Mr. Farber. “I don’t know if I can continue.”

“You committed for the month,” said Mr. Farber. “Hang in there for three more weeks.”

Another week passed, and Aryeh was beginning to go crazy working alone all day long. “I can’t hack it anymore,” he said to Mr. Farber.

“We said a month,” said Mr. Farber. “Hang in there for another two weeks.”

Aryeh pushed himself for two more days. However, he simply could not handle it anymore. “That’s it!” he decided. “I’m going to quit.”

The following day, Aryeh came to Mr. Farber. “It’s final!” he said definitively. “I’m quitting!”

“It’s not OK with me,” said Mr. Farber, “but it sounds like I don’t have a choice.”

Mr. Farber found another worker, who insisted on $10 an hour, $1 more than the wage Aryeh had accepted.

Mr. Farber called Rabbi Dayan. “How much must I pay Aryeh?” asked Mr. Farber. “Can I deduct from his salary the differential of the higher wage for the remainder of the month?”

“The Gemara [B.M. 10a, 77a] teaches that a per-diem worker [po’el] can retract even in the middle of the day,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “G-d declares Israel to be His servants alone, whereas an irretractable work commitment is a form of bondage.” (C.M. 333:3)

“What pay is Aryeh entitled to?” asked Mr. Farber.

“Since the worker can retract, he is entitled to the full salary for the time he worked,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “The cost of the alternate worker does not make a difference, whether more or less; the original employee is entitled to his salary per hour or day that he worked.” (C.M. 333:4)

“However,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “this is only when the work is standard, as in our case. In other cases, when the work is urgent and entails a potential imminent loss – davar ha’aved – the worker may not retract because of the damage he causes to the employer. In this case, if alternate workers cost more, the employer can deduct from the salary the differential in the cost of alternate workers.” (C.M. 333:5)

“How can Aryeh quit without giving notice?” asked Mr. Farber. “Certainly he should have given me time to find someone else.”

“Indeed, Chazon Ish writes that if it customarily takes time to recruit a new worker, the employee must give notice with sufficient time,” Rabbi Dayan concluded. “During this time, it is considered a davar ha’aved and the employee cannot quit. If he did so regardless, and it was necessary to hire an alternate worker at a higher rate for those days, the employer can deduct the differential from the original employee’s salary for those day. That could apply here, depending on your particular circumstances.” (Chazon Ish B.K. 23:2; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 11:1)

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.