PART ONE: Paying Baby-Sitters on Time and Much, Much, More – A Halachic Analysis

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(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com)

They watch our children while we go out to a wedding, or to a restaurant to eat. They will often agree to come on a moment’s notice.   And yet, at times, we will violate Torah commandments in how we treat them financially.

“Sorry, I did not get a chance to go to the bank.  Can I get you next time?”

“Oh no!  It seems that I don’t have change for a hundred.  Do you mind coming by tomorrow and I will pay you then?”

Often the ninth or tenth grade young lady who is baby-sitting will just answer, “Sure, no problem.”  Deep down, however, she is not too pleased about not being paid when it was expected.

It is a Torah prohibition not to pay a worker on time – or on the day in which the service was performed.

Making a blessing on the Lulav and Esrog on Sukkos from day two and onward is a Rabbinic Mitzvah.  But paying a baby-sitter or other worker on time is actually a Torah commandment. In fact, there are no less than five commandments that are violated.  These laws are found in Choshain Mishpat section of Shluchan Aruch (339:1).

So what are these five prohibitions?  1] Lo sigzol – do not steal 2] lo saashok s’char sachir – do not oppress the wages of a worker 3] lo saashok es rayacha – do not oppress your peer 4] lo salin pe’ulas sachir do not leave over the wages of a worker and 5] lo savoh alav hashemesh – do not let the sun pass over him.

The Shulchan Aruch adds the words, “it is as if he has taken his soul.”  This is based on the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 111a. It is quite a serious statement.

EVEN WHEN MINORS

Even when the employees are minors – the prohibitions are still violated (See Ahavas Chessed 9:5 written by the Chofetz Chaim).  The prohibition is violated whether or not the employee is Jewish (See CM 359:1, 9 and Shach 359:3).  In contemporary times this applies quite appropriately to young baby-sitters.

OTHER ASPECTS

  • Accuracy about when it ends. Sometimes, the end time of when the baby-sitting job is over is underestimated by the parents. There are some parents that are consistently late coming home.  One father was actually overheard saying, “If I don’t say 11:00 PM-ish – the baby-sitter would never agree to come in the first place.”  Purposefully misrepresenting the timing is a violation of midvar sheker tirchak – distancing oneself from a false matter.  There are horror stories about lateness too.  One baby-sitter was told that the parents would return by 10 PM.  When this didn’t happen, she texted the parents at midnight.  The parents said that it would be a while longer.  At 2:00 AM she texted again.  Clearly, it is always very important to communicate or make another arrangement when one sees that they will be late.   It could be that the babysitter had plans to do homework together with a friend or something else to do.  It is also true the other way as well.  One junior high school baby-sitter complained, “It is annoying when they first tell you that they will be three hours and they come back after 45 minutes.  They pay you for an hour but you actually changed your plans and wanted to get paid for three hours.  Of course, you’re not going to say anything.”
  • Lack of Full Disclosure – “When the child that the babysitter is watching has some psycho-social issues, the parent should really warn the babysitter about it. One child was actually pulling out clumps of his own hair.  The baby-sitter was traumatized.  That is really not fair.”
  • LAST MINUTE SWITCHES – “One time I was supposed to babt-sit a two year old. When I got there the mother said, ‘You know what?  You watch the newborn and I will take the two year old.  She didn’t give me a choice!  I had never even held a newborn baby.  She left and the baby woke up.  I so did not know what to do.  I called my mother and she texted me pictures about how to hold a newborn baby.”
  • There was also a case in Brooklyn where the parent told the baby-sitter, “Well, don’t you have chessed hours? Why don’t we call it even then.” This is out and out genaivah – theft.
  • “One parent actually paid me with food and not money. What was I supposed to say?”  This may actually be a form of gezel – theft.   The reason is that although we do say “shaveh kesef k’kesef – the value of money is like money” when it comes to betrothing a bride – the same is not said regarding paying someone.  The value of the food is not readily marketable.  Simply because the baby-sitter acquiesced is not an indication that they are “okay” with it.

THE AHAVTAH L’RAYACHA KAMOCHA COMPONENT

There is another section of baby-sitting and how we treat them that involves the Mitzvah of v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha – loving your neighbor as yourself.  Some of us may not be aware of how things look like from the perspective of the baby-sitter.  Below is a list of pet peeves culled from the experiences of a number of baby-sitters.

  • Feeling awkward. Sometimes the parents are unaware of feelings of awkwardness that the baby-sitter may be feeling.  One baby-sitter remarked, “It is annoying when you come on time and then they take a long while to leave.  It is very awkward to hang around the parents.”  If possible, we should be sensitive to ensuring that people do not feel out of place.
  • A younger baby-sitter remarked, “When you are little they don’t treat you like an adult and they just give you an amount of money that they just made up– and you expected and wanted much more.” If it is less than the going rate that may be a halachic problem as well.  On the other hand, there may be different rates for different ages.
  • And then there is the fact that a number of parents rush out with no pre-written instructions. The babysitter must often find the wipies and diapers herself – but there is more.  “They tell you that you can take any food – but they don’t tell you where the cups are.  Then you open up every cabinet and then you notice that there is a nanny-cam in the kitchen that you didn’t even know about.”  One might have thought that not telling about a nanny-cam may be a form of hezek riya – intrusive damage.  Poskim consulted for this article thus far have ruled that although it is allowed – one should, out of mentchlechkeit tell the baby-sitter that they are there.

Other pet peeves expressed by the baby-sitters are:

  • “When they say that the baby will be sleeping and the baby is not sleeping. You should get paid more for daytime hours – when the kids are up.”
  • “Dirty diapers should be paid more.” One babysitter makes the parents come home if there is a dirty diaper (but only if they are the neighborhood).
  • “Once I was asked to give the kids supper and also to do baths.”
  • “After 12 midnight a baby-sitter should be paid more.”
  • “I hate it when the homes do not have house phones. What if there is an emergency and for some reason my phone isn’t charged or stops working?  Also, some of the baby-sitters share a phone with a sister, or don’t even have their own phones.  What are they supposed to do?
  • I hate it when they don’t have wifi or they don’t give you the code.”
  • “I hate it when they pay you by check – “So annoying. A kid like me – wants cash.”
  • “I dislike it when a parent is cheap and tries teaching you a lesson when you are late. One parent took off a dollar because I was two minutes late.  And they didn’t leave until much later!”
  • “One they had me babysit for a whole weekend and I had to stay there. At the end, they only gave $100 for 48 hours – when they took me for a whole Shabbos.”
  • “Once the parents didn’t tell me how to work the light and it was a complicated lighting situation – so I sat in the dark – for hours!”
  • “Another parent instructed us that we don’t have to hide the wrappers of the snacks that we would eat. We had actually done so on a previous occasion when they had told us that we could eat whatever we wanted. We felt a little bad that we had SO MANY wrappers.  So the last time we hid them in the garbage can. There were two of us.  But the fact that he had brought it up was very embarrassing.”
  • “We should get leeway on the bedtime. Sometimes the kid just doesn’t listen and I end up feeling so guilty when he stays up later.”
  • “I didn’t know what to say when the kid tried to call her mother from my phone. “When are you coming home, mommy?”
  • One mother said to me, ‘Oh, she’s an easy baby.’ Well maybe for the mother – but not for a stranger.  She was crying the whole time.  I asked another babysitter and she said the same thing happened.”
  • “One time, the grandmother walked down and gave me dirty looks when I was looking in the fridge and snack drawer.”
  • “It is also very awkward when the fathers drive you back. You don’t know here to sit – in the back or not.  Once I thought that the father was not such a yeshivesh person and then he said that I should sit in the back.  I felt really awkward and then I saw that he just likes to put his arm on the seat thing.”
  • “I hate it when they don’t tell you that they have pets. It can be scary.”
  • “I baby-sat at one home had a secret staircase. The father kept going one way and then appearing from a completely other direction.  This was all happening when they were getting ready to leave.”
  • “One family leaves all the medications on the window sill. The kids would eat it.  Once, I got up the gumption to tell the father that he shouldn’t leave it there.   That was very awkward.”

Many of these situations could be minimized if we apply the idea of v’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha with a little more thought.     NEXT WEEK: BABY-SITTING – THE PARENTS VIEW

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.  Please feel free to submit any thoughts or content.




2 COMMENTS

  1. There could possibly be a problem of yichud if a father drives a girl home at night (I know of a case where a girl almost had a problem with a male driver because he was controlling the child safety lock and didn’t want to let her out. Boruch Hashem, she had a cell phone and was able to convince him to open it without anything happening.)