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The Catering Salesman: When Does He Get Paid?

Payment requirements for the private salesman

By: Rabbi Dovid Grossman, Rosh Bais HaVaad

There is one halachic classification of work which can lend itself to confusion. A poel who works by the hour is a schir yom. An independent contractor, who is paid by the job, is a kablan. Each of these categories comes with its own set of rules and halachos.

The third category of employment is an arrangement which is neither by the hour nor by the job, but rather a sales job. This halachic designation of mekach, or sales, applies when a worker constructs something in his own time and with his own materials, and then sells it.

The worker who uses his own material to construct a cabinet, sew a garment, or even write a Sefer Torah does not have an employment arrangement with the buyer. Rather the buyer purchases the product once it is complete. There may be a requisite down payment, or some payments made along the way. But the worker is using his own materials and his own infrastructure. Therefore, he is considered as working for himself, as a mekach.

On Time Sales Payments

The halachic designation of the mekach makes a difference with regards to terms of payment.  According to the halacha of bal tolin, an employer must pay his worker on time. In the case of a poel or a kablan, the employee is obviously working for the boss, and the boss must make sure to pay him. This may apply even if one is creating a cabinet or sewing a garment. If he is using the boss’s material, or working on the boss’s time, he still falls under the category of a kablan or poel.

In the case of the mekach, there is no mitzvah dioraisa of bal tolin, to pay the salesman on time. However, there is a mitzvah dirabanan to pay the mekach as soon as possible. This is based on the possuk in Mishlei, “Al tomar l’chavercha, lech v’shov umachar eten..” “Do not say to your friend, ‘Go and return and tomorrow I will give’, though you have it with you.” If you have the ability to pay the mekach, do not send him away for another day. It is a mitzvah dirabanan to pay the mekach on the same day the goods are delivered or services rendered.

Paying for the Party

The common application of this principle is in the case of wedding vendors. The baal simcha books a caterer, rents a hall, and hires a band. Is he obligated in the mitzvah of bal tolin, to pay these vendors that same day?

It depends on the nature of the product or service.

It is questionable if the hall rental falls under bal tolin. There is a question among the poskim if renting m’taltalin, moveable objects, is in the same category of renting a home or building. A home or building does not fall under the halacha of bal tolin, while there is a shaila if renting moveable objects, such as the tables and chairs, does fall in this category.

Waiter services and the like are a classic case of schiras poelim, a regular employment which is subject to bal tolin and must be paid that same day.

The caterer’s fee, however, is for the food and that is considered a mekach. The baal simcha pays for the portions of food prepared for the wedding guests. As a mekach, the caterer does not fall under the mitzvah dioraisa of bal tolin.

Whether a product or service is designated as a poel, kablan or mekach can have halachic ramifications regarding payment. In every case, it is important to understand which category you are hiring.

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