Friday, March 20, 2009

Post Lesson 5:

Thank you for attending our fifth lesson of You Be The Judge. Here’s a quick recap of the session:

Working for Whom?

The beginning of out lesson outlined the distinction between an independent contractor and an employee. An independent contractor enjoys autonomy and flexibility but has no assurance of a steady paycheck, while an employee sacrifices freedom in exchange for predictable, timely compensation.

We reviewed the Biblical example of Jacob’s employment and its emphasis on employees adhering to the highest ethical standards. Conversely, in a tale from the Talmud, Rav Huna tried to justifiably withhold wages from workers. His actions were admonished, illustrating the ethical obligations of employers.

What is an Employee?

Distinguishing between the two categories of independent contractor and employee can pose quite difficult. In this vein, our discussion began with a landmark American case, U.S. v. Silk, in which courts debated the statuses of coal unloaders and truck drivers. We focused on several factors, such as whether the employer provides specific directions of not just what to do, but how to do it, whether the employer provides tools for the work, whether the employer provides place for the work to be done, and whether the employer can tell the worker when to come and go. Nevertheless, we found that many employment situations fail to fall neatly into one category or the other. Even in this case, two courts ruled that they were both independent contractors – and then the Supreme Court overruled the lower courts, stating that the truck drivers were independent contractors, whereas the coal unloaders were actually employers.

Jewish Labor Law

We started by highlighting the important Jewish principle that it is undesirable for a person to be enslaved to another person. As a consequence, although an independent contractor can be held to a contract, an employee can quit a job at any time without penalty. Additionally, the Biblical model of the “Hebrew slave,” Jewish law recognizes severance pay for employees – but not independent contractors. Thus, it is important to determine whether a given worker is an employee or independent contractor in order to assess what compensation the Jewish court can require.

We then surveyed two Talmudic cases, one involving a school bus driver, and the other tutor, in order to evaluate their respective statuses. The main criteria considered in this discussion were a) whether the worker was paid by the job or by the hour, and b) whether the worker was bound by a set schedule or not. The bus driver received compensation per child on his route (similar to an independent contractor) but was still bound to driving the route at a particular time each day (similar to an employee). Conversely, the tutor was paid per hour (similar to an employee), but had the discretion over what he would be teaching and when (similar to an independent contractor).

We concluded that the critical factor as to whether one is an employee or not is whether one’s time is under the control of an employer. Thus, the bus driver was ruled to be an employee while the tutor was ruled to be an independent contractor.

Mystical Insights into Employment: G-d as our Employer

G-d binds Himself by the same laws that He commands of us. The Torah instructs an employer to pay wages at the end of the workday. Why then do we not receive payment immediately for our good deeds?

One answer is that we are considered to be independent contractors who are not paid at the end of each workday, but when the task is completed. This would imply that our payment is not due until the end of our lives, when our contract is delivered.

However, the primary reward of the soul is not in the afterlife, but in the period when the soul returns to the world in the era of resurrection after death. The resurrection of the dead occurs in the messianic era, when the entire world has been transformed due to the collective labor of all souls since the beginning of time. Thus, our true reward is received at the completion of our collective mission.

Thank you again for joining, and I very much look forward to seeing you next week for lesson three.

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