Question: A car mechanic charged me rates way out of line with other mechanics in his area. Can I claim ona’ah and demand a refund of the unfair price?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch differentiates in this regard between a po’el, an employee who is time-bound and paid by the hour or day, and a kablan, an independent, contracted worker who charges a flat rate for the job. [There is a dispute how to define a worker who is free to work when he wants, but bills by the hour. See SM”A 227:59 and Shach 333:20.]
We learned last week that there is no ona’ah on the sale of slaves. Although there is no slave market nowadays, the exclusion of people from ona’ah remains relevant for time-based, salaried workers. Thus, even if the price-per-hour varies significantly from the going rate, neither the worker nor the employer can claim ona’ah. (C.M. 227:33)
However, if the worker is an independent contractor who charges a flat price for the job, the Shulchan Aruch rules that ona’ah applies if his price veers significantly from the going price range. This is because such a worker is not bound by time and is not at all comparable to a slave, whose time is bound. If the worker charges extra because he is highly qualified and provides a superior service to other professionals, then there would be no ona’ah. (227:36)
The exclusion of loan documents from ona’ah would apply nowadays to the purchase and sale of most financial documents – stocks, bonds, treasury bills, etc. – since they do not have intrinsic value and only represent the debt or share in the company. (227:29)
[Let us reiterate what we mentioned last week: according to many Rishonim, even when we exclude an ona’ah claim, it is still prohibited to knowingly swindle the other party.]
Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian
These articles are for learning purposes only and cannot be used for final halachic decision. The Business Halacha email is a project of Business Halacha Institute (www.businesshalacha.com) and is under the auspices of Rav Chaim Kohn.