What if someone is experiencing problems at work, such as a hostile work enviroment. Perhaps the employer would rather give an employee a bad time, hoping they'll quit, as opposed to firing them (to avoid paying out unemployment benefits). How does one handle that situation? In this day and age, quiting a job might not be a good thing to do, because the next job might not be just around the corner.
In his groundbreaking work, “With All Your Possessions,” Jewish Ethics and Economic Life, Meir Tamari cites three factors that define the Jewish understanding of employer-employee relationships:
“1. The employer – employee relationship is a specific instance of contractual rights and obligations binding free agents.All legal factors applying to contracts – regarding, e.g., duress, withdrawal and litigation – apply here. 2. The worker is entitled to special protection regarding his wages and working conditions, over and above the normal legalisms regarding contracts.Halakhic sources understood that as a result of his dependence on his wages, the worker is far more vulnerable to delays, legal snarls and sudden changes in the market place and has to be protected. At the same time, Judaism’s symmetry in justice is reflected in its insistence that the worker has obligations as well – primarily, to render honest value for wages received….3. A major form of protection is that granted by custom.Thus, custom usually provides the worker with fringe benefits over and above wages agreed upon, even where such benefits are not explicit in a contract (p. 129)."
We can, therefore, conclude that, according to the standards of Jewish tradition, if an employer, in order to avoid payment of unemployment benefits to a regular full-time worker who has met her/his work obligations, intentionally creates a hostile work environment to induce a worker to quit, the employer is in violation of the spirit and, depending upon the details of the work agreement, the letter of Jewish legal tradition.
In the United States, however, the law of the land, and not Jewish law, determines how such matters are to be resolved.And, clearly, if the employer and/or the employee are/is not Jewish, Jewish tradition can not be expected to have any relevance in the matter.Moreover, Jews in the United States, a country in which principles of justice apply equally to all citizens, are obligated by Jewish law to abide by the law of the land (see Talmud Bavli: Nedarim 28a, Gittin 10b, etc. and later halakhic sources).The only instance in which Jewish law could be brought into play would be if both the employer and the worker are Jewish and both agree to resolve the matter before a Beit Din, a rabbinic court, that can act as a court of arbitration whose decision would be binding if the two parties, in accordance with civil law, vested the court with such power.
Jewish tradition aside, if the worker, in a thoughtful and responsible manner, brings the issue of the hostile work environment to the attention of the employer in an effort to resolve the situation, and the employer responds favorably, well and good.If the employer fails to ameliorate the situation and it remains as difficult as it was or gets worse, the worker has a number of choices.As the questioner indicates, especially in the current employment environment, it may be wisest for the worker to “suck it up” and not quit, in the hope that the employer either backs off or fires him/her so unemployment benefits could kick in.Another tack would be to turn to one of the many organizations that specialize in helping people in such a situation, either gratis or for a modest fee.They can easily be accessed on-line.A third option would be to try to get the employer to agree to mediation or civil arbitration.Finally, the worker could consult a labor lawyer who could either advise the worker or represent him if a law suit is in order.Litigation should be a last resort because of the time, stress and expense involved.
Quitting a job takes strength and courage, especially in the current financial environment; however, as one who has been hit very hard by the economy and one who has also been in the situation you describe first of being given a hard time so that the company is not responsible for paying unemployment. The second was my first job out of undergrad in advertising. I was so intimidated, financially could not quit, but dreaded each day.
Not only does a negative work environment and abusive or harassing professional relationships affect our confidence and self-esteem; but, our health is also compromised. Once I was told, for example, that a rabbi has to take the bruises, so to speak. Each of us is created B’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image and each of us are deserving of kavod, dignity and honor.
In Judaism Pekuach Nefesh, saving a life is important. It is so significant to our faith that one may even break the laws of Shabbas to fulfill Pekuach Nefesh. Also, we are taught in Torah to choose between life and death, the blessing and the curse, choose life. This to me means that we are able to choose how we live. Will we live an enlivened life or will be feel dead inside - often because of the stress or extra weight we carry in our life.
In the past 3 years I have learned not to be angry with God, saying, “Why are You doing this to me,” but rather, “What is the purpose.” And though I don’t always know; I do know that difficult times are often times to evaluate our priorities and to realize that money is important; however, it is not the source of happiness. In my setting priorities I have come to realize what I preach (If only I would listen to my words) self care is critical, followed by good health, caring for others (family, friends, pets…), and then having a life choice that brings satisfaction (also financial security and health insurance).
Often in difficult work environments or in situations where we feel that nothing is good enough, that we have to put up with what we are experiencing because the other choice of not finding a job right away is frightening, especially if we are the primary earner. However, please remember, when we say a MiSheberach for healing it is not only for body, but also mental healing and healing of the soul. Physical health is certainly compromised by the situation you describe above.
Being a grandchild of survivors, I draw strength from knowing they came to this country financially and mentally destitute and many were able to begin again, carve out opportunities for themselves and their families (accepting jobs even if they did not know the trade), and make a living. Most were able to renew their belief in God and others.
There are many stories where people have to start over, and/or reevaluate their lives. In this economy there are many in careers one would never imagine to be so impacted financially. There will be good days and bad; but, self care is very important for us to be able to care for others and take the steps, perhaps hesitantly, for a renewal of spirit and self.
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