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Firing and Furlough Amid COVID-19

  1. Due to COVID-19, many businesses and schools have been closed. What obligation does a business or school owner have towards his employees? If one is obligated, are there any exceptions? Is the halacha different if there is a physical signed contract?

Answer 1: The following pertains to employees who work “at will,” who can be terminated with some important conditions listed below:

  1. One has to give his employee ample time to find a job.
    • In the United States, this is usually around 2 weeks.
    • In Eretz Yisroel, the minhag is that additional time is added based on how long one has worked at this particular company of school.
  2. This is questionable in the current situation, when jobs are very hard to find.
  3. The Halacha may be different in an extraordinary situation, such as a makkas medinah.

Answer 2: The following pertains to those with a halachically-binding contract or the type of job that is understood to be for a certain time period, such as rabbeim, most school staff, or playgroup moros or assistants. When these people are hired, it is understood that the hiring is for a year, and it is difficult to get a job mid-year.

The general halacha in a case of oneis, where it was nobody’s fault, is that the employer is not obligated to pay. However, makkas medinah (when an entire region or country is experiencing the same oneis) is less clear and is a big machlokes amongst the poskim.

  • The Mordechai quotes the Maharam, who discusses a situation in his time, when he hired a melamed and then the government instituted a decree against learning. He considered this a makkas medinah and thus said that it is different. However, it is unclear what that means. 
    • There is a three-way machlokes in understanding the Maharam:
      • The Rama understands it to mean that in the case of a makkas medinah, you have to pay in full.  
      • The Sema understands it as sharing the load. Whereas normally an employer would not have to pay anything, in this case he needs to pay half.
      • The Nesivos explains that the Maharam is referring only to the case of a melamed, but a regular makkas medinah would have the same halacha and an employer wouldn’t have to pay. (The Vilna Gaon gives the same p’sak, but simply argues on the Maharam.)
  • The Chasam Sofer experienced this type of case himself and paid in full, but suggests a pesharah (compromise) due to all the differing opinions and says that one should pay half. 
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