Halacha for Monday 23 Tevet 5779 December 31 2018

Severance Pay When Terminating an Employee

Question: I always act in accordance with Torah law with regards to my business dealings. I was recently terminated from my place of employment at which point I requested monetary compensation from my employer, in accordance with the law. My employer, a Torah-observant Jew, claims that according to Torah law, there is no such thing as compensation/severance pay. Is he correct?

Answer: The Torah commands us that when one frees a Jewish servant (something which is no longer applicable nowadays), one may not send him away empty-handed, as the verse states, “You shall surely furnish him from your flock, threshing floor, and vat with which Hashem your G-d has blessed you.” Although this Torah obligation does not apply to an employee who has been dismissed since he is not a slave and the Torah refers specifically to a slave, nevertheless, the Sefer Ha’Chinuch (Mitzvah 450) writes that “the root of this Mitzvah is so that way me acquire stellar character traits in our soul etc. Our glory is evident when we show mercy to someone who has served us by giving him gifts as an act of kindness, besides for what we have stipulated as part of his wages.” This is basis for the Mitzvah to give a worker who has been terminated a respectable amount of money as severance pay upon his dismissal. It seems, however, that this is not an actual halachic obligation and is rather a Mitzvah incumbent upon the employer in that if he wishes to act in a just and upright manner, he should compensate his fired worker handsomely.

Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his posthumously published Yabia Omer, Volume 11, Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 20) discusses this issue in a response he penned approximately two years before his passing. He concludes that since the custom today in Israel and other civilized countries is to compensate a worker by means of severance pay upon terminating him, there is even room to obligate an employer to comply with this custom, as the Talmud Yerushalmi (Chapter 7 of Baba Metzia) states, “A custom nullifies Halacha.” (Nevertheless, this idea does not apply in all cases and is only applicable in the context of this Halacha regarding severance pay.)

Indeed, when Maran zt”l was a member of the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court (in the year 5720/1960) alongside the Av Bet Din, Hagaon Harav Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg zt”l, a case came before them whereby a woman who was an employee of the General Senior Living Facility of Jerusalem was dismissed and she was claiming severance pay from institution’s administration. The Bet Din ruled that the institution was obligated to compensate this woman who was an employee of their institution.

At the end of this response, Maran zt”l writes that Hagaon Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l would commonly rule that employers in the United States were obligated to pay severance to a terminated employee as this was considered an established custom. Thus, after quoting many other Acharonim who rule likewise, regarding the aforementioned question, according to Maran zt”l, the employer’s claim is incorrect and he must compensate the worker with severance pay as is customary. If there are any further doubts or disagreements regarding this matter, both parties should consult a competent Bet Din.

Ask the Rabbi

8 Halachot Most Popular

One Who Eats Less than a Kezayit of Bread With other Foods- The Halachic Pitfall Present in Some Halls

In the previous Halacha we have explained that one does not recite a blessing on foods eaten during a bread meal, for the “Hamotzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz” blessing recited on the bread exempts them. We have also quoted the words of the Ritba who explains that this is not because of......

Read Halacha

Tu Bishvat Customs

Tonight, Sunday night, marks Tu Bishvat. There are unique customs observed on the night of Tu Bishvat, as we shall explain. The Prohibition of Fasting and the Customary Reading of the Zohar It is forbidden to fast on the day of Tu Bishvat. Some customarily hold an order of learning on the eve of......

Read Halacha

Mentioning Hashem’s Name in Invitations and Letters

Question: Is one permitted to write “ב"ה” (acronym for “Be’ezrat Hashem”) at the top of letters, adorn wedding invitations with verses, and the like or should one not do so out of concern that they may be thrown out into the waste basket, causing disgrace to Hashem......

Read Halacha

Eye Ailments on Shabbat

Our Sages teach us in the Gemara in Masechet Avodah Zarah (28b): “A man’s eyes are connected to his heart.” Thus, if we see that one’s eye is in danger, it is tantamount to revealing an ailment in the person’s heart and we must certainly rush to desecrate Shabbat in ord......

Read Halacha

Some Detailed Laws Regarding a Person Suffering from a Life-Threatening Condition on Shabbat

In the previous Halachot we have discussed that there is a Mitzvah to desecrate Shabbat for one whose life is in danger such as to transport him to the hospital, turn on a light in order to afford him proper treatment, and the like. We shall now discuss some details about this matter, based on what ......

Read Halacha

One Whose Life is in Danger on Shabbat

If one experiences a life-threatening situation or illness, there is a Torah obligation to desecrate the Shabbat on his behalf, for instance, by rushing him to the hospital by car; indeed, there is a Mitzvah to perform any other forbidden work on Shabbat that is necessary to save the individual&rsqu......

Read Halacha

The Blessing on Puffed Wheat and Farina

Question: We would like to partake of all of the Seven Species on Tu Bishvat. We wished to use puffed wheat as one of the species. What is the correct blessing on puffed wheat? Answer: Anything made out of the five types of grain (wheat, barley, oat, spelt, and rye) such as, cakes, cookies, and o......

Read Halacha

Rice Cakes and Puffed Rice Cereal

In the previous Halacha we have discussed that any grain, such as wheat, which is eaten raw requires the “Boreh Peri Ha’adama” blessing. For this reason, the blessing for puffed wheat is “Boreh Peri Ha’adama.” Only if the grains were cooked together until they sti......

Read Halacha