By Rabbi Chaim Chazzan
If one returns home from an event and realizes that he only has a large bill with which to pay the babysitter, is he obligated pay with that (and have her owe him the difference) or can he push off paying her until sometime later?
One who withholds payment due to a worker or employee, besides stealing, it is also a transgression of a specific prohibition related to withholding wages: “Lo sa’ashok es rei’acha – You shall not cheat [i.e. withhold wages from] your fellow.” (Vayikra 19:13).
Furthermore, there is an additional obligation to pay wages on time and prohibitions against delaying payment: “B’yomo titen scharo, v’lo sovo alav hashemesh – On that day you shall pay his hire; the sun shall not set upon it” (Devarim 24:15); “Lo solin pe’ulas sachir itcha ad boker – A worker’s wage should not remain with you overnight.” (Vayikra 19:13). This issur is known as “bal talin”. One transgresses bal talin at the end of the day or night when the work was completed.
A violation of the prohibition midoraisa only occurs at the specific time the wages are due. Once that time has passed, and one has already violated the issur min hatorah, there continues to be an issur derabonon until he pays.
In addition, one only violates the prohibition if he has available funds. However, one should not hire someone knowing that he won’t have the funds to pay on time, unless the worker is informed prior to being hired and agrees.
If one has money in the bank or in the hands of a friend, he is obligated to use that money. Furthermore, if one had money when hiring the worker and then spent it, he transgresses the prohibition. Even when one has no available funds, it is a midas chassidus (an act of piety) to borrow in order to pay on time.
One only violates the prohibition if the employee asks for his wages. However, if there is a concern that the employee wants the payment but is silent out of shame, it is considered as if he requested the payment.
Furthermore, according to the Zohar (quoted in the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch) one should be extremely stringent to pay wages on time, even if the employee desires that the employer hold onto the wages (rather he should pay him and then take it back to hold it).
In conclusion: Considering the fact that there are so many variables and it is easily possible to transgress an issur d’oiraisa, one should always be careful to pay on time for any work done.
ראה שו”ע חו”מ סי’ שלט, שו”ע אדה”ז חלק חו”מ הל’ שכירות סעיפים יא-יח, ספר אהבת חסד (לבעל החפץ חיים) דיני תשלומי שכר שכיר, ספר פתחי חושן חלק ד פרק ט.
Reprinted with permission from Lmaan Yishmeu – a project of Mercaz Anash. To see more articles visit Mercazanash.com