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Can a Babysitter Back Out of a Job Commitment?

Rav Yitzchak Grossman

Question: A young couple wants to attend a family wedding and hires a high-school girl to babysit their children for the evening. After making the commitment, she realizes that she has a big test the next day and needs to study. Is she permitted to back out of her commitment?

Answer: While we said that a worker is usually allowed to back out of a commitment, an exception to that rule is that of a “dovor ha’avud”, an instance where the employer relied on them and will suffer a loss if they leave. This loss could either be a financial one or a non-financial one. The Gemara gives an example of a non-financial loss when someone is hired to transport musical instruments to a wedding. If he doesn’t complete the job, there will be no music at the wedding, which will be a big loss, albeit not a financial one. Similarly, the couple who will be missing the wedding that they really wanted to attend would be a case of a non-financial dovor ha’avud, which would mean that the babysitter would not be allowed to back out of the commitment.

There is another rule that even in cases of dovor ha’avud, if the worker is struck with an oness, an unforeseen emergency, he is allowed to leave the job. An example of this would be a death in the family or if he or a member of his immediate family falls ill. Whether not doing well on a test is considered an oness is debatable. Furthermore, the halacha is that if the oness was foreseeable for the worker but unforeseeable for the employer, the worker cannot back out because he should have foreseen this before making the commitment; therefore, it could be argued that the babysitter should have foreseen the need to study for her test, which would forfeit her claim to oness.

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