By Rav Dovid Grossman
Solitaire and Dan’s Deals
An employee’s commitment may be more than meets the eye. Many workers are accustomed to having a more casual approach when defining their relationship. As long as I “get the job done” how much of a difference does it make if I “steal away” a few minutes here and there to engage in the “social environment” in the office. Can it be so terrible if I take a longer lunch break or take out some time to “chap” the latest online deal or a “quick” game of solitaire?
But in essence – it’s not so simple.
Picture this. You come home one Sunday afternoon and sitting on the couch right in the middle of your living room is your landlord. Shoes off. Feet up on the coffee table. He lowers the volume on his headphones and lowers your Sunday paper just long enough to give you a short hello, and then goes back to reading.
“What are you doing here” you ask in a polite tone, trying to mask your annoyance. He coolly puts down the paper, pulls the property deed from his pocket and indignantly replies, “Excuse me, but if you read carefully you will see that this house belongs to me.” As your blood-pressure soars to new heights you rigidly respond “I know the house belongs to you, but since you rented it to me, you gave up your right to just use it anytime you wish. I would appreciate if you would leave as soon as possible.”
The case is crystal clear. The landlord is clearly in the wrong, and each moment he remains in the rental property without permission, he is stealing from his tenant. Yet, in essence, the same is true in the case of employment.
An Employee’s Commitment
Rambam (Sechirus 13:7) compares an employee who uses his time on the job for his own purposes to stealing. When one is hired to work for an employer, one is in actuality “renting” out one’s capabilities, efforts and strengths to their employer. Therefore, although in essence one’s body and all of one’s talents and strengths are their own, when one accepts a job, one relinquishes his rights to use them for his own benefit to his employer. For one to use their boss’s time to find cheap tickets, play solitaire, or conduct a lengthy conversation with a friend (not business related) is tantamount to theft, just as is the case with our friendly landlord.
It is important to note that there are acceptable leniencies in regards to this sensitivity. Anything that can be clearly classified as “common practice” is permissible, as it is understood that the employee was hired under those assumptions. For example, even though prolonged non-business related conversation is forbidden, one may say hello and greet a fellow employee in the hallway, speaking in a relaxed and unhurried way which expresses common courtesy.
To show the extent of this sensitivity Rambam (ibid) rules that during working hours a worker is not required to recite the fourth blessing of Birkas Hamazon. The reason for this is that since the obligation to recite the fourth blessing is merely a Rabbinic obligation, one’s responsibility to their employer overrides the obligation. In today’s environment the custom is to recite it. This being the case, one who does recite this blessing is not considered stealing.
As a general rule, anything which is considered normal industry practice such as a “coffee break” or the exchange of typical social pleasantries would be acceptable However, anything more than the “minhag” must be limited.
But not to worry – there are many halachos which protect the rights and sensitivities of employees and clearly define an employer’s obligations to their employees. There are halachos of how and when an employee must get paid, which tasks an employer may request or require from their workers, when and how a boss can expect an employee to stay overtime, as well as a number of other areas of sensitivities. These Halachos will be addressed in subsequent articles. As a concluding note, we should mention that it is important to have an open discussion with one’s boss to define what is expected of them regarding the many gray areas of their employment, and if necessary to contact a dayan to ensure that one is fulfilling their obligations as an employee.
This article has been written by The BAIS HAVAAD L’INYONEI MISHPAT and is meant for awareness purposes only. A slight variation of the facts can significantly change the Halacha. For Choshen Mishpat related questions or services please contact The Bais HaVaad office at 1.888.485.VAAD (8223)or email info@TheHalachaCenter.org.