- 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 cases.
Sources: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.
Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent to [email protected].
We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.
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!