Rabbi Meir Orlian
While it was still winter Mr. Zimmer decided to renovate his summer home. After some inquiries, he chose Mr. Hendler for the job. They agreed on the work needed and the total price for the job.
“I won’t get to it for another month,” said Mr. Hendler. “Is there any rush on it?”
“No, do it at your leisure,” said Mr. Zimmer. “As long as it’s ready by the summer.”
About a month later, Mr. Hendler began the renovations. Halfway through the job, he received an offer for a very lucrative, long-term project.
“I’m in the middle of a job,” Mr. Hendler said, “but should be available in a few weeks.”
“We need to start the project immediately,” the other party replied. “If you’re not available now, we’ll have to get someone else!”
Mr. Hendler called Mr. Zimmer. “I’m halfway through the renovations,” he said, “but just received an offer for a long-term project that must start immediately. I’d like to quit your job and let someone else finish. I’ll make an accounting of the work I did.”
“That’s not fair,” said Mr. Zimmer. “I waited for you and don’t want to get involved with someone else. You need to finish the job!”
“I can recommend someone else,” said Mr. Hendler. “I know that he does high-quality work.”
“I don’t accept this,” said Mr. Zimmer. “You’re not allowed to stop in the middle!”
“I’d like to check this out with Rabbi Dayan,” said Mr. Hendler. “Let’s discuss the issue with him.”
Mr. Hendler told Rabbi Dayan that he was renovating Mr. Zimmer’s house, but just received an offer for a long-term project. “I’m willing to take a cut in the work that I did and let someone else finish the job, but Mr. Zimmer insists that I finish. Am I bound to him?”
“The Gemara (B.M. 77a-b) teaches that a salaried, time-based employee (po’el) can quit his job when it does not cause the employer a sudden loss,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Hashem says, ‘Ki Li Bnei Yisrael avadim — Yisrael are My slaves,’ and should not be bound by an irrevocable commitment to another. The po’el employee is entitled to full pay for whatever work he did. However, a flat-fee worker contracted for the job, who is not time bound (kablan), is not included in this” (C.M. 333:3-4).
“Does this mean that I am not able to quit?” asked Mr. Hendler. “Even though I am willing to forgo some of the pay?”
“There is a dispute on this issue,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Rivash, Rosh and Tur (333:2) indicate that a kablan is not able to retract in the middle; beginning the work is like a kinyan (act of transaction). Although the Tur continues, ‘If he did retract, he has the lower hand’ — meaning that if the employer was unable to force the kablan to finish the job, or if he was able to find other workers to complete the job, but at a greater cost — the kablan must bear the monetary consequences” (Machaneh Ephraim, Sechirus Po’alim #4-5).
“How is beginning the work like a kinyan?” asked Mr. Zimmer.
“The Ritva (Kiddushin 47b) writes that it is a takanas chachamim (Rabbinic enactment),” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Additionally, Harav Y.E. Spector, zt”l, suggests that the shibud (lien) generated on the employer’s property to pay the worker also binds the worker to the job; alternatively, the work serves as a kinyan chazakah on the kablan’s service” (see Nachal Yitzchak, C.M. 39:17; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 7:3(9); 11:6).
“However, other Rishonim indicate that a kablan can retract, but must suffer the monetary consequences,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Harav Spector understands this to be the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch, who only mentions that “he has the lower hand.” (See also Aruch Hashulchan, C.M. 333:11.) Thus, it is questionable whether you can retract, unless there is a qualified replacement, and you must certainly bear any monetary consequences.”