Reuven is hired to work at a new job. Reuven's employer agrees to
reimburse him for the anticipated travel expenses via public
transportation. If Reuven decides to walk or ride his bicycle to work
each day, is he still entitled to the agreed upon travel allowance?
If Reuven has a neighbor that offers him a free ride to work, is he
permitted to keep the money that the employer is offering for travel
expenses, for his own use?
If the employer stated explicitly that he is giving Reuven money to
be used only for travel expenses, or if Reuven is required to give the
employer receipts proving that he actually incurred travel expenses,
Reuven has no right to keep the travel allowance in either of the above
two cases (Questions A and B).
However, if the employer only said that he will provide Reuven with an
additional amount every month to reimburse his travel expenses, and did
not put any express conditions on this allowance, if Reuven walks or
rides his bicycle to work (Question A), he is still be entitled to these
additional funds. However, if Reuven takes advantage of free
transportation offered by a neighbor (Question B), the employer is the
one who will benefit from this arrangement because he will not need to
provide Reuven with the travel allowance.
All of the above is only true if the employer has committed himself
to pay the entire travel expense. However, if the agreement is to pay
only part of the expense, Reuven is still entitled to the money in both
of the above cases, unless the employer had originally stipulated that
he will only pay for part of _actual_ expenses.
Similarly, if the travel allowance is incorporated into the regular
paycheck, and Reuven is not obligated to produce receipts of his travel
expenses, he is entitled to the travel allowance in both of the above
The Mishna in Kesubos (5:8) tells us that one of the responsibilities
that a husband has to his wife is to provide her with food or a food
allowance that is sufficient for her needs. See there for the details
regarding this Halacha. The Gemara on this Mishna (Kesubos 65b) states
that if the husband supplies her with more than her needs, the surplus
food or allowance belongs to him, and she is not permitted to give it
away without his permission. This is also stated as the Halacha in the
Rema in the Shulchan Oruch (Even HaEzer 70:3).
The Pischei Teshuva in the Shulchan Oruch (ibid.1) quotes the Responsa
of the "Teshuva MeAhava" that writes, "If the wife really requires the
entire amount for her needs, but deliberately starves herself so as to
keep the extra food or allowance for other needs, the wife is entitled
to the extra money or food. Through her suffering she acquires the
rights to it, since this was her intention."
In other words, we must make a distinction, as to why there is a
surplus. If, generally, the wife requires a certain amount of money for
food expenses, and this month she is able to purchase the food at a
discount, the extra money must be returned to her husband. Her expenses
are less this month and the allowance must be adjusted. But if the
price of the food remains the same, but she chooses to eat less this
month, whether it be to save money or to cut down on her own caloric
intake, she is still entitled to the full allowance, since she is doing
this clearly for her own benefit and not for her husband's benefit.
We can make a comparison between a worker's travel allowance and a
wife's food allowance. If the employee chooses to "suffer" by walking
to work rather than riding, he should be able to keep the travel
allowance that he has acquired, since his intention is to endure the
alternate travel arrangements for his own benefit and not for his
employer's benefit. If, however, he finds a free ride to work, the
allowance reverts back to the employer as surplus funds. Since there
is no sacrifice in what he is doing, we only look at the fact that his
travel expenses for this month are less, and the allowance should be
adjusted accordingly, for the employer's benefit.
Although the argument can be made that the two allowances are not
similar, because the husband's obligation to his wife is required of
him by the Torah, whereas the employer commits himself entirely
through his own free will, ultimately they are the same. Once the
employer commits himself to providing the employee with the travel
allowance, albeit voluntarily, and does not specify that he will only
provide this allowance under certain conditions, this commitment
becomes an obligation, just like the obligation of husband to wife.
Therefore, if the original commitment is only to provide the allowance
in exchange for receipts, or if the employer clearly said that the
travel allowance is only for actual expenses incurred, the employee is
not deserving of it even if he walks to work. However, if there was no
such specific agreement, the employee is entitled to the allowance
if he walks to work because he can then argue that he only chose to
"suffer" by walking to work, for his own benefit. But if the employee
only found a more convenient way of traveling to work at no cost, he
has no such claim and the employer benefits.
If the agreement is that the employer pays part of the travel expenses,
or that the employer says that he will provide the employee with a
set amount every month to be used towards travel expenses, even if the
employee finds a more convenient ride to work, he is permitted to keep
the money. The reason is because the employee can still argue that his
actions are only intended to save himself from his portion of the
expense and not to save his employer's expense. Obviously, if the
agreement is to reimburse the employee for part of _actual_ expenses
incurred, then the employee still has no claim to this money.
This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an
Av Bet Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his
permission and approval.
This class is translated and moderated by Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Yeshivas
Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Rabbi Tendler accepts full responsibility for
the accuracy of the translation and will be happy to fax originals of the
articles in Hebrew to anyone interested.
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!