Talmidav Shel Aharon
2-5769: Mitzvah N-38
November 2, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 37 – This is a negative commandment: Do not delay the payment of a hired man’s wages.
Hafetz Hayim: for Scripture says, “The wages of a hired man shall not remain with you [all night] until the morning.” (Lev. 19:13). And it says further “neither shall the sun go down on it.” (Deut. 24:15) For if he was a hired man for the day, he is to collect his wages anytime during the entire night. [Since it says “all night until the morning”] And if he was hired for the night, he is to collect his wages anytime during the day [because it says “neither shall the sun go down upon it”]. A man hired for certain hours during the day can collect anytime during the day and a man hired for certain hours during the night is to collect anytime during the night.
In the case of a craftsman who is hired to repair an object, as long as the object is in the possession of the craftsman , even if the craftsman informed the owner that he completed it, the owner commits no transgression. If he does not demand his payment, from him the owner commits no transgression. And even if he demanded it of him and he did not have what to give him, or if the employer passed him on to another and the other person took it upon himself to pay, he is free of guilt.
If a person delays the wages of a hired man beyond the allotted time, he disobeys the positive commandment (see Mitzvah 66) and he violates this prohibition. If after the time he delays further, he violates a prohibition from the words of the later parts of Scripture “Do not say to your fellow, “Go and come again, etc” (Proverbs 3:28) It is all one whether it is the hire of man or a domestic animal or tools and instruments; these words of Scripture apply to it: “On the same day you shall give him his wage; neither shall the sun go down on it and the wages … shall not remain with you all night. .” If someone wrongfully retains the wages of a hired man, it is as though he takes his life, and he violates the injunctions (Mitzvot N-35 & N-37) “You shall not wrongfully deprive your fellow, nor rob him.
It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.
The Hafetz Hayim is so clear here that I almost don’t need to comment at all. The law is simple, if a person does work for you; you have the obligation to pay him right away. A hired man, or a hired woman, or a tradesman or a craftsman, depends on those wages to feed himself and his families. We are talking about day laborers, hired in the morning and to be paid at the end of the day. We may have money in the bank and can wait to be paid until the end of the week or until the end of the next pay period, but these people depend on being paid immediately for the work they have completed. According to the Torah, you are endangering the hired man’s life if you delay payment. If you insist that he keep coming back day after day to collect his wages, you have caused him pain and embarrassment and are also in violation of the law.
It is my custom to pay my bills on time every month. Those who bill me are paid before the deadline printed on the bill. The hired people who do work for me are paid at once. We had a man, Willie Woods, who cut our lawn for many years. If I was home when he cut the grass, I would stop what I was doing and write the check for him so that he could have it as soon as he was finished. I didn’t like to force him to wait for me to write it later. I wanted to have the check ready so he could be free to go on to his next customer. If I was not home I knew Willie would be back at the end of the day and I tried to have the check ready for him when he came back. All Willie had was his lawnmower and his truck. If I did not pay him for the work he did, then how could he feed his family and buy gas for his equipment? In addition, I made it a point to always shake his hand and thank him for a job well done. He often protested that his hands were too dirty to shake my hand but I shook hands with him anyway. He was not “just a hired hand” but a reliable worker and the father of a family. He was not that different from me.
The exceptions to this law are technical in nature. If you give your watch to a craftsman to fix and he finishes it and tells you to come and pick it up, you don’t have to rush to his store. After all, he has the watch, if you default on the payment, he can sell the watch. If the craftsman does not demand his payment, then the owner is not required to pay. If the owner can’t pay because he has no money, then he does not violate the law because the craftsman still has the watch. This clearly does not apply to the hired man since the work is now finished and he must be paid. If the employer does not have the money, he should not have contracted that day to do the work. If someone else has given the hired man his wages for the day, the first employer is free from guilt if he does not pay the same day (but he still owes him money).
The law sides with the day laborer. If he goes to court, the court will demand immediate payment from the employer. It also applies to the man who employs an animal to help on his farm, or if he rents tools or instruments. The person who owns the items depends on the income to feed his family and maintain the animals or the tools. There is no leeway. Even if the man did a bad job and even if he damaged something, he needs to be paid for the day lest he go home and starve. A man deserves payment for a day’s work. It is a sin to withhold his wages