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Friday, April 04, 2008

Asking for Payment Equals Lacking Tact????

The following appeared in Rabbi Ginsberg's chinuch column in this week's Yated, which focused this week on character development:
A teacher once shared with me a troubling incident he experienced. A student of his babysat for his children one evening and he promised to pay the student the following day. The teacher was troubled that the student requested payment the following morning and didn’t wait for him to make the payment. He thought that it was possible chutzpah.

I told the teacher that the child was not being disrespectful at all. At the most, the child may have been missing tact, as a student should not demand payment from a teacher, especially the morning after. However, I encouraged the teacher to view it from the eyes of the student, who is, after all, still a child. In the student’s eyes, payment was due and there was nothing wrong with asking for it.

Presuming a payment was requested politely, I certainly don't think it is chuptzah to request money due, nor do I think it lacks tact. Of course, the entire "troubling incident" would have been avoided completely if the pay was handed over by the parent upon returning from a night out. Personally, I wish I was more comfortable discussing pay (in advance). Like most females (I have to wonder if the student referred to was male or female and if the gender played into the accusation of "possible chupzpah" or "missing tact"), I get very uncomfortable discussing pay and/or pressing for payment. The female gender, in particular, has generally been conditioned to confuse work and chessed, oftentimes putting up with no payment, late payments, and/or undercutting business. Where does that get the self-employed/contractor? Unfortunately, not to the bank. Two years ago, I wrote a post offering some tips on discussing pay and ensuring timely payment. Two years later, I'm still working on taking my own advice.

A student who had the guts (or lack of tact, if you prefer) to ask for payment might just be cut out for working within the community and owning a business, perhaps a grocerybusiness. I have seen a handful of letters regarding non-payment and/or tardy payment of debtors and I have had readers write asking me to bring up the subject of just how difficult it is to collect payment when dealing with frum customers and how they are made to feel like beggers when they are rightfully owed money and have even paid expenses related to the job out of their own pocket (perhaps even pushing off their own creditors). So, I hope to continue the discussion on that from a variety of angles.

In the meantime, here is a letter regarding some kosher grocery stores that have banded together to plead with those they have extended credit to to pay up. The fact that business owners have to pay for another ad to ask for money they should have been paid already (or for which a payment plan should have been put into place) is the real chuptzpah.

WHAT A WORLD
Dear Editor,
I was appalled to see an ad in a local
circular from grocery stores asking customers to pay up their balances. Can you imagine? Stores have to band together to get people to pay money that they owe? Why haven’t these people paid up their bills until now? The stores are gracious enough to offer credit, but why do they have to beg people to pay up? Where is the yashrus?

I understand that many people literally don’t have money. Well, you know what? Neither do I. I live day-to-day and dollar-to-dollar. And I only buy the very basic necessities, because I can’t afford more. And yet, when I go into the supermarkets, I see people loading up their wagons until they are practically overflowing. These people then go to the check-out lines and tell the cashier to “put it on my bill.” The cashier then points out to them that they already have $800 on their bill and that all accounts were supposed to be paid up already. I have witnessed this many times. And these people’s children stand there and watch this exchange. What kind of chinuch is this? What kind of generation are we bringing up when storeowners have to plead and beg bechol lashon shel bakasha for people to pay their bills?

Sincerely,Yosef Schorr



I'm afraid the type of chinuch that is being offered is one of cynicism because the kids witness a world that lacks in Yashrut and they see their parents might also be lacking. How different than the chinuch I got from my parents wherein every single bill (invoiced or uninvoiced) that was due was paid immediately and wherein my mother was usually the first to ask, what do I owe you?

30 comments:

Abbi said...

I have a huge problem with this unpaid "chesed work" in the charedi community. I think it's great to encourage students to do chessed for truly poor people- working in a soup kitchen/food bank, visiting elderly shut-ins, working with kids from truly poor families. I don't consider pro bono babysitting for middle class families to be chessed. That's just called ripping off defenseless kids. I suspect that's a reason this teacher thought the child was "chutzpadik" He thinks the babysitting should have been free.

DAG said...

I have always wanted to have the courage to go to a Rabbi who runs an organization that does not pay its workers on time, after the rabbi gives a long shmuess about the values we can learn from the Torah. One simple question Rabbi, without the platitudes, and hypotheticals, what does the Torah say in Vayirka 19:13. What does Rashi say that means?


I have heard that a famous Charedi author living in Israel used to have girls babysit for him as a fulfilment of their Chesed hourrs.

Yes it is Chesed to help anyone. It is inappropriate, however to misuse such help, especially when the main draw is your name.

Mike S. said...

Unless the teacher and student agreed on the next day payment in advance, the teacher violated a lav d'oraitah and was m'vateil an aseh by delaying payment until the morning. The notion that it is either chutzpadik or tactless for the worker to ask for his or her wages to be paid on time is Kafkaesque. The fact that the worker is a child and the employer a Rebbe does not entitle the employer to delay payment. Just the opposite--the Rebbe should have taken the opportunity do demonstrate zrizut in performing a mitzvah bein adam l'chaveiro by paying promptly.

Zach Kessin said...

If stores have such a hard time getting people to pay their bills why do they even offer credit anymore, How about putting up a big sign that says "NO MORE CREDIT, Cash or plastic only"

anonymous mom said...

Yashrut is the key. It is lost in Chareidi society. This was clear to me back in high school and I got off the boat shortly thereafter. Looking back, it was this lack of Yashrut more than anything else that caused me to leave that life. It is the biggest loss to be mourned in Chareidi society and it encompasses so many other societal ills. This is why the stores do not stop the credit. Don't you see. They are enmeshed in this dysfunctional culture.

ora said...

I'm with Zach on this, why don't the stores put a stop to the endless credit? The reason this is a problem unique to the hareidi community, IMO, is that other communities don't have the same opportunities to walk all over people. I had never heard of the idea of "store credit" at a normal grocery store until very recently, it's just not done in the non-Jewish/secular world. It's too bad if the religious world isn't able to handle it responsibly, but IMO at some point it becomes the store owner's problem for continuing to loan to people who s/he knows won't repay.

I can see how they might have problems with customers who would complain, threaten to shop elsewhere, etc. OTOH it seems that it would be worth it to cut prices somewhat to attract more customers if by doing so one could also insist on immediate payment and thus avoid thousand-dollar unpaid tabs.

Abbi--I agree when it's unpaid hessed for those who could afford to pay for the help, OTOH, I do think that offering free babysitting and free cleaning help is a big and often overlooked chessed that people can do for each other. And people don't have to be truly poor to need that kind of help. For example, I know young couples who manage to pay rent, food, electric, etc, with minimal problems but can't afford to go out together b/c they have no family around and can't afford babysitting. Ditto for couples who aren't what anyone would call poor, but still don't have the extra cash for a bit of cleaning help even though they just had a new baby. Things like that. IMO it's a mitzva to help people in those situations, and to be dan l'kaf zchut (unless they're obviously rich) and assume that if they're getting free help they really can't afford to pay for the service.

Litvak said...

R. Ginsberg is from MN, I think things are more straight out there. Maybe the problem was that the student asked for payment right off the bat when seeing the teacher, rather than giving them an opportunity to offer it first ?

Anyway, in general, I think you hit a home run here. This is a very serious problem, creating much cynicism and eroding trust in the community. Like bridge supports eroding and people looking away until a collapse occurs, G-d forbid, as happened in MN a while ago, such things can lead to catastrophic collapses in faith, may G-d help us.

SL and Yosef Schorr are very right.

triLcat said...

I'm assuming (and hoping) that the rebbe comes from a society where somehow asking for money is considered "dirty." I hope that he genuinely intended to pay the child quickly and was only offended because he felt that the child's request indicated that the child didn't trust him.

I was raised to think that it's rude to ask for money even if it's owed to you. It's not a good way to raise children. They end up getting taken advantage of. If the child is polite and says "Rebbe, I want to remind you about the babysitting last night." then the child is completely in the right, and the rebbe should get a clue.

BTW, my brother was once given a check for $5 for babysitting (this was in 1983-4 or so), and it bounced! He was so afraid to embarrass the family that he never told them it bounced.

Abbi said...

Ora
I agree with you about helping out couples who can't afford babysitting but aren't necessarily dirt poor. But I know families who have cleaning help 3 or more days a week, plenty of teenage family members who can help out with babysitting and can easily afford to pay a babysitter whenever they want/need to who still get sem girls who use their chessed hours to babysit their kids in the afternoon. I just don't think that's right.

Anonymous said...

Is it tzedakah and chessed to give an alcoholic a bottle of vodka when he can't afford to buy one himself? Should you give a drunk a drink? Continuing to offer credit to those who don't shop responsibly and don't buy only what they pay for with cash is the exact same thing. It's not chessed or tzedakah---they are enabling self-destructive behavior.

And no--you don't *need* all that stuff you buy at the grocery store. Kids can live without teeny bits, gummy candy, and sour sticks. A non-spoiled child will appreciate a sugar-cube on yom tov. As for the adults---chulent was invented as a meat stretcher---a way everyone can "eat meat" on shabbos before the minimum costs of being frum was 5 times the yearly salary of the non-Jewish neighbors.

On that note, I was in a local non-Jewish grocery store. Saw a kollel-guy with a gallon of milk in 1 hand, and flowers for shabbos in the other. That's all he was buying, and he had the audacity to bring out a WIC check to pay. So you can afford fresh flowers on Shabbos, but not milk for your kids?

SephardiLady said...

Abbi-You bring up another good subject, one I will hopefully get to.

Mike S-Absolutely the teacher should have paid the wages due because that is Torah.

Litvak-Having your support when writing about these topics is very flattering. Thanks!

SephardiLady said...

Anon-You hit upon an important subject. . . when does helping (via tzedakah, interest free loans, etc) become hurting? I hope to take a look at that.

Zach Kessin said...

Ora Said: I can see how they might have problems with customers who would complain, threaten to shop elsewhere, etc. OTOH it seems that it would be worth it to cut prices somewhat to attract more customers if by doing so one could also insist on immediate payment and thus avoid thousand-dollar unpaid tabs.

On the other hand if you are loosing the people who don't pay their bills that is not much of a loss, OK you may have to take the value of their bills as a write down, but at least stop throwing good money after bad

ProfK said...

Once upon a time, in the "good old days" owing money to anyone for any reason was considered a terrible thing. Being in debt ate away at people's sense of self-worth. They worked like crazy to get out of debt and even harder at staying out of debt to begin with.

Today "living on credit" has become so pervasive that we forget, sometimes on purpose and sometimes by accident, that debts require repayment. We "put off" paying the butcher, the baker and the babysitter. Why? Those people owe you nothing. They have given you goods and services which should be paid for immediately. If you cannot afford the services, how can you justify using them?

I cannot ever remember not paying a baby sitter immediately when I came home for the evening. Unless it was discussed beforehand that the student was doing a chesed for which he would accept no money, the rebbi should have been the one to immediately go over to the student and profer the owed money.

Anonymous said...

I suspect that the Rebbe was hoping the girl would go home and the parents would say: "oh, just chalk that up to chessed hours." the rebbe was probably appalled that the girl and her parents didn't take the bait.

I freelance and I have to get better about billing. I'd say that if it was me i would have waited the whole day, to give the person a chance to make good on their pledge, and then asked them the next day for payment.

Mike S. said...

Anonymous:

What kind of rebbe would agree to pay a baby sitter and then delay payment in the hope the kid would forget about it? That would be pure rishut. At least it would be failing to pay a worker, failing to pay a debt, gneivat da'at, and real gneivah. Given that he is a rebbe it is a huge Chillul Hashem as well. I can't believe anyone would behave like that.

I would hope it is just that the rebbe was intending to pay the kid at some point in the day, and was embarassed to be asked. Of course, someone setting the example a rebbe should would have paid quickly, but I can't imagine he was trying to cheat a kid.

Lion of Zion said...

ZACH (and ora):

"If stores have such a hard time getting people to pay their bills why do they even offer credit anymore, How about putting up a big sign that says "NO MORE CREDIT, Cash or plastic only""

i assume the answer is a simple risk-benefit calculation. as long as most people continue to pay the credit tabs, it is worth it to take a hit on those that don't. grocers are not idiots. if they lost that much $ on bad credit they would discontinue the practice.

the same logic applies to the post from a few days about bouncing checks. come commentors asked why don't stores accept only cash and credit cards. again it's the same risk-benefit calculation. as long as most people don't bounce checks it is worth it to accept them. and of cource don't forget about the merchant fees that stores pay on all credit card transactions. maybe a bunch of bounced checks is less of a loss than 3% (or whatever it is) on every purchase.

(none of the above is meant to belittle the problem at hand.)

ProfK said...

Lion,
There is a real cost for bouncing a check. The person who bounces the check is charged by the bank for that bounced check. But the person who deposits that check is also charged when it bounces. Thus a store owner not only does not get the money coming to him, but he pays to find out that it won't be coming to him.

On a $100 purchase, a credit card fee of 3% would be $3.00. Citibank charges the customer who deposits that fraudulent check $15 to 25 dollars. The merchant could have processed 5-8 credit card customers for that amount. If the number of bad checks is less than one in every 5-8, then checks cost less. If the number of bad checks is in the one in every 5-8 range, the owner is losing money by allowing checks.

Elitzur said...

Part of the issue is that many schools require (non-paid) chesed hours. One of our neighbors teens comes over some Shabbos afternoons to play with our kids. His mom asked if I could please encourage him to count the time as chesed hours. You see, he felt bad counting the time because he enjoys coming over. Something is wrong with the education if kids think they are not allow to enjoy chesed hours...

Mike S. said...

Prof K:

In comparing the cost of bounced check to credit card fees you haveto look at the main business as well as the fees. For the checks you have to add in the profit the merchant makes on the check paying customers who would go elsewhere if he didn't take checks, and subtract the loss due to bad checks that can't be collected.

JS said...

Given the way the story reads, I'm willing to bet the rebbe was annoyed the student asked - in other words, the student should have waited for the rebbe to fulfill his promise of payment. The fact that the student asked is rude - in the rebbe's opinion it didn't show enough kavod or trust.

Needless to say, I'm perturbed by the rebbe's reaction. He should have realized his obligation to pay in a timely manner and set a good example. He should also have realized that upon making a promise of "I'll pay you tomorrow" he had a heightened obligation to pay immediately and at the very least shouldn't be surprised when someone asks for that payment on the day it was promised.

In terms of the kosher stores extending credit, I always assumed it was tzedekah that the leaders of the community "force" the store owner to extend. In other words, the community leaders put heavy pressure and guilt on the store owner to help out the community. I also assumed community money was used to pay back the store owners in some cases - that this was seen as preferable to a needy person asking for the tzedekah himself, instead credit is extended without expectation of payback.

On some level I hope this is right (that it's tzedekah and not just bad business practices), but on the other hand I think this leads to abuse of the system and teaches bad financial habits.

Esther said...

I think you wrote about this recently - what bothers me most about the phrasing in these situations is that it is not simply a matter of "yashrus" or "chillul Hashem." This is halacha d'oraisa. Many of the people who violate the halacha of paying workers on time or cheating people in business are the same people who worry about minhagim or chumras in kashrut or tsniut. Yet they are actually violating a prohibition that has much more serious standing in the halachic framework.

WannaBeChossid said...

Speaking of checks, in Chicago there is a restaurant that has a sign @ the counter:

"Due to some problems we can no longer accept checks. Please accept our apologies."

Lion of Zion said...

PROFK:

i understand the real cost to merchants of bouncing a check. but as the bad as the problem is, it is apparently still worth the risk for many merchants. otherwise they would stop accepting them.

and of course i don't need to point out that the people who ultimately pay the price of bounced checks are not the merchants but us consumers (in the form of raised prices to cover bounced checks.)

Lion of Zion said...

ELITZUR

"Part of the issue is that many schools require (non-paid) chesed hours. One of our neighbors teens comes over some Shabbos afternoons to play with our kids. His mom asked if I could please encourage him to count the time as chesed hours."

when i was in high school we had to do 40 hours a year of community service. i don't think playing with neighbors' kids on shabbat counted.

ProfK said...

Lion,
It didn't count when my oldest kids were in school. They could visit people in the hospital or in nursing homes. They could visit shut ins or do shopping for the elderly who might not be able to manage on their own. They could deliver shalach monos without charge for individuals or for tzedaka organizations. They could make regular phone calls to shut ins. They could volunteer for tzedaka and chesed organizations stuffing envelopes and the like. They could only babysit if it was in a "kimpit" house, for a mother of a newborn who needed extra help. And here was the kicker--volunteering to help their own parents and family was also counted. Helping to put up our own sukkah was also chesed. Shlepping the boxes for Pesach down from the attic are also a chesed. Strangely enough, babysitting for a morah or a rebbi was never on the suggested list back then. I guess it might have looked too much like "forced labor."

Elitzur said...

I can't say I'm familiar with the programs (my kids are still too young) though I know they do count babysitting/playing with younger kids and also count chesed done at home...

I went to a charedi (boys) high-school so this whole concept of chesed hours is new to me...

Ariella said...

I would guess the teacher thought that the student asking showed a lack of trust. But I know from my own experience that people tend to have very, very short memories when it comes to what they owe others.

In fact, it is very rare for an advertiser to send payment unless reminded that the contract required payment by a certain date. And because I forgot to remind a few about payments due months ago, they do not regard themselves as late in payment. One of them demands an extnsion until after Pesach as "now is not a good time" with all the Pesach expenses. Part of the reason I forgot to invoice those who owed smaller amounts is that I had to make so many phone calls to one who owed a larger amount. He still owes 2/3 the amount, and this goes all the way back to last November.

Anonymous said...

I think there is another part of the equation that grocery store owners are considering when they choose to extend credit. I'm sure that people who pay their credit tabs regularly help make up for those who are in default.

But if the shopkeeper is a member of the Jewish community, there is another incentive to continue extending credit. I imagine that word of a grocery store owner who was cruelly making it impossible for poor families to buy Shabbos food would travel quickly. The hit to the shopkeeper's reputation could be sever indeed. And if some of the families using credit were prominent community leaders, the potential damage is that much greater.

Julie said...

With regard to chesed hours, I know no one asked me and this discussion has been over for a while. But somehow it seems wrong to count hours visiting an older person but not hours with a young child. It's is ageist to assume that time spent playing with a child is fun while spending time with an old person would only be done as chesed. I would much prefer to visit my 95 year old friends in the nursing home where they live than to spend time playing with my neighbor's three year olds. And I am much closer in age to 3 than I am to 95.