I am an employee at a Jewish institution who was abruptly elevated to fill the role of my superior a few years ago when my superior unexpectedly retired. I was under contract with multiple years still to go on that contract.
As the employing organization was in turmoil over the sudden retirement, there was a great deal of confusion, distress, a precipitous loss of supporters, and there was a financial crisis due both to the economic downturn and the loss of support. On taking the role of my superior, I turned my attention to reassuring the staff, retaining and recovering supporters, and providing continuity of leadership, in order to stabilize and to rebuild the organization. All those efforts have proven successful.
Now that the employer has seen support re-established, and has largely restored and even begun to improve its overall financial position, I have asked them to renegotiate my contract to reflect my current position and role, the role I have actually fulfilled during the past several years, rather than continuing to hold me in the lessor role that I previously filled.
The organizational leadership did not choose to bring up the issue, or consider making this change on their own. I have now raised it. Assuming that the renegotiation proceeds as expected, I will be confirmed in the superior role, and will be awarded a compensation commensurate with that role.
My question is whether it is appropriate for me to ask the organization to compensate me for the difference in the amount I was paid in the junior role while serving in the role of the superior? In other words, am I owed 'back pay' for stepping up and fulfilling the more challenging role?
I believe that there is an argument to be made that the organization may have transgressed several Jewish values and principles in this matter, including Kavod HaBriyot, Yosher, and perhaps even Geneiva.
I am asking specifically in regard to Jewish values, not secular law issues here. What is your take on this?
bBaba Mezi’a 94a requires gemirat da’at, an unambiguous coming together of minds, for a legal obligation to apply.
mBaba Mezi’a 4:2 regards an oral agreement to be morally but not legally binding in a court of Jewish law, Deuteronomy 23:24.
bBaba Mezi’a 48a rules that God and not the human courts enforces oral agreements.
Maimonides, Sheluhin 4:1 is clear that one is obliged by enforceable law to fulfill the conditions of the agreed upon contract and to be paid what the contract requires. See also tBaba Mezi’a 7:1 and bBaba Mezi’a 76b.
Explicit exceptions to this rule are the dowry [bKetubbot 102b] and the surety [bBaba Batra 173b] based on the consideration prestige for promising to guarantee the loan that the Jewish culture assigns to such benevolence.
In this case, the employee assumed the role that he did in the office—and contract—with its intended, specified obligations and recorded compensation expectations.
The employee was working over and above the contract by personal choice in order to save the institution and his own employment.
There was no oral or written agreement that was entered into by the employee and institution. The institution therefore did not incur a legal obligation to pay an increased compensatory sum to the employee.
The institution has no legal obligation to the employee for additional compensation as there was no contractual understanding undertaken.
The institution ought to recognize its employee’s excellence of execution but is under no legal obligation to do so. Financial consideration is given only upon clear and present obligation. [Maimonides Edut 9:3]
The employee has a right to renegotiate his contract with appropriate compensatory enhancements.
There is no obligation on the part of the institution to provide retroactive compensation.
By asking for non-contractual retroactive pay, the employee may squander his moral authority by being perceived, correctly or not, of not doing “the right and the good.” [Deuteronomy 6:18]
The employee should be compensated very generously going forward recognizing his very significant past accomplishments on behalf of his institution.
Let me begin by saying that I’m sorry that you are facing such an unfortunate situation in your work place. It is very difficult to fulfill ones responsibilities when one feels undervalued by the people one serves and for whom one works. This is especially true when one works for a Jewish organization that should be motivated by the highest Jewish values and ideals
It seems to me that you are asking at least three questions. The first question is, what legal obligation does the institution have to you as an employee? The second question concerns the moral and ethical responsibility of the institution to you. Finally, there is the question of your responsibilities to the institution. What do you owe the institution for which you work?
The first question is probably best addressed to a lawyer or to the people who work for your professional or denominational organization. While I am not an expert in labor law, it seems to me that as long as you are obligated by a previous agreement, the institution is within its right to pay you an agreed upon compensation. Furthermore, while it may make sense to show their appreciation for the work you did above and beyond this agreement, I do not believe they have an obligation to pay you additional compensation. It is probably short sighted not to find some way to reward you for your efforts but in the terms of your contract the institution is doing what it is legally responsible for. Professional responsibilities, particularly of clergy, are not limited to specific responsibilities. Rabbis, cantors, executive directors and educational directors who work full time for an organization are expected to do whatever is necessary to maintain the organizations need even if the needs change over the course of the contract.
The second question is much more difficult. Does a Jewish institution have a moral responsibility to compensate you for your efforts to maintain the organization at a transitional time? Jewish institutions should treat their employees with respect and should compensate them for their efforts. You, however, would have been working at this institution, whether or not the senior employee had suddenly retired. Would you have received more compensation for doing a better job or working longer hours if he was still there? I suspect you would not expect that to happen. On the other hand, it is in the interest of an institution to show its appreciation to an employee who has gone over and above the expectations of others – especially if it wants him to remain a satisfied employee. Appreciation, however, can be shown in many ways (extra time off, a gift from the congregation, a testimonial dinner, or a new contract reflecting the new position); money is only one of the ways someone can show appreciation.
Finally, I would ask you to think about your responsibility as an employee of Jewish institution. Much is demanded of Jewish professionals – they are hardly ever paid as much as they deserve. However, I would hate to think that our work simply comes down to monetary compensation. My first pulpit as a Rabbi was only part-time; I earned five thousand dollars for an entire year of leading services on Shabbat and holidays. I was called on to teach, to officiate at life cycle events and to be the spiritual leader of the congregation. How much I was paid did not affect how I did my job or what was expected of me. I would hope that this institution would find a way to show its appreciation to you for your efforts but the real reward is serving the Jewish community as a Jewish professional.
I agree with my colleagues; while you should consult an attorney if you have any serious legal concerns, it seems to me that your employer has transgressed neither civil law nor Jewish ethics. Would it be nice if you were offered back pay? Certainly. Are you “owed” it? I don’t think so.
You have been through a traumatic time with this organization, as has your employer, and it is understandable that everyone may be left with some painful and difficult baggage. It is certainly unfortunate that you don’t feel adequately appreciated and that your new role has not been formally recognized, and I can understand your chagrin at having to be the one to raise the issue of contract renegotiation. Still, it does not seem warranted to express that chagrin within the context of these negotiations if, notwithstanding present circumstances, you wish to continue in your role with the organization.
Keep in mind that everyone involved, including and perhaps especially the organizational leadership, will have likely experienced your predecessor’s abrupt departure as a grievous loss, and possibly even a betrayal. It sounds as though you have done much to help staff and supporters move through and recover from this loss. Perhaps the body or individual that employs you is still suffering its effects. Crisis tends to bring out both the best and the worst in all of us. Crisis within an organization further complicates the response. In any case, I cannot know (and I encourage you to consider if you haven't already) what other issues, distractions, and tensions have legitimately hindered your employer from clearly perceiving concerns that seem significant and obvious to you.
Remember the teaching of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pesiskha, that each of us should carry two notes with us at all times: one reading, “the world was created for my sake,” and the other, “I am but dust and ashes.” The trick, of course, is knowing when to draw out which note, and how to strike the correct balance. Drawing from the teachings of Rabbi Israel Salanter and his Mussar Movement, the middot of savlanut (patience) and anavah (humility), might be particularly helpful in this situation.
I hope the renegotiation goes well, and that you feel properly valued thereafter. I hope that your employer will express, both during and after the negotiation, appropriate appreciation and gratitude for your selfless service to the organization. I hope that you will be able to forgive past disappointments, and continue your good work without resentment. If you cannot, it may be better for you to find a different situation for yourself. There is good reason why many organizations appoint interim leaders to follow a difficult transition, and it should not reflect poorly on you if you feel it’s your time to go. (You might, however, give more notice than your predecessor, lest you undo all the good you have done!)
I wish you insight and peace as you find your way forward.
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