The Jewish Ethicist: Renegotiating a Low Estimate
click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​




The Jewish Ethicist: Renegotiating a Low Estimate

The Jewish Ethicist: Renegotiating a Low Estimate

If a job was harder than we expected, does the contractor deserve a little extra?

by

Q. My contractor estimated that it would take two days to remove my wallpaper and then paint the wall. But it turned out the wall was in bad condition and it took three days instead. I'm thinking of offering him extra payment, but I'm not sure I should. After all, if the job had taken less time than we anticipated the contractor could have charged me the full amount! LI

A. It's true that when you hire a contractor you are paying for results, even though the price is usually based on an estimate of the required work. So the price quote does take into account some normal variation in the amount of work required.

However, when there is a big surprise, like the bad condition of your walls, then the fairest policy is to adjust the payment. Jewish law states that when an employee does more or better work than expected in the face of unexpected conditions, he is justified in expecting improved treatment, even when he can't actually compel the employer to give extra. That extra effort may not be mentioned in the contract, but it is right and fair to acknowledge it.

Remember that the contractor could have just cancelled the job as soon as he discovered the state of your walls. Of course he would have received no payment, but he wouldn't have been stuck with the extra work. By continuing even after knowing that the work would be more than expected, he really did go the extra mile to do a good job.

If, when you first hired the contractor, you gave him reason to believe that the walls would be in good condition, then you are definitely obligated to pay him extra, at least if he demands it. In this case the reason for the deviation is not normal deviation but rather the fact that you unintentionally misled the workman.

Of course the same thing applies in the opposite direction. If the work takes much less work than anticipated, it is fairest if the contractor offers a discount. From readers' letters I know that many business people adopt this policy.

Our modern economic system is based on the "invisible hand" of the market, the idea that economic incentives result overall in economic prosperity, even if in certain individual instances there is a lack of fairness. But belief in God teaches us to supplement this idea with an acknowledgement of the Hand of Providence, the hand of God, which provides for each person individually. "You open Your hand and satisfy each living creature (Psalms 145:16)." Even if sticking stubbornly to the contract does lead to a fair outcome on the whole, we should strive whenever practical to achieve a just result on each individual transaction.

SOURCES: Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 333:5, 334:1; Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat 333:27.

The Jewish Ethicist is a joint project of Aish.com and the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. To find out more about business ethics and Jewish values for the workplace, visit the JCT Center for Business Ethics website at www.besr.org.

JCT Center For Business Ethics

Copyright © JCT Center for Business Ethics.

Published: January 12, 2002


Give Tzedakah! Help Aish.com create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.

Visitor Comments: 2

(2) Anonymous, January 16, 2002 12:00 AM

Definitely pay the man for his work!

If I hire a sitter to watch my children while I take a trip to the hospital to visit my aunt, telling her I'll give her $20, then I have a car accident and actually end up in the ER until 2 am, do I still pay her a mere $20 for 12 hours of watching my 4 rowdy kids? NO OF COURSE NOT! When we are hiring someone to help us, either babysitting, fixing our house, or fixing our car, we are obligated to pay for the work that is done. A surgeon is not going to charge for 2 hours of surgery when he finds a problem that leads a surgery to be extended to 12 hours! Should one feel no obligation to pay for the extra 10 hours of surgery? This doesn't even make sense to me! However, if it really is a case of a contractor not estimating properly for OBVIOUS work (like estimating it will cost $500 to exterminate and then trying to bill for $900 to exterminate), they should be held to their original agreement, because under these circumstances, they are the professional and should estimate professionally and competitively (how can you be competitive with someone who underbids erroneously?).

(1) AVI ROSENFELD, January 13, 2002 12:00 AM

THIS IS DIRECTED TO RABBI MEIR AND HIS INTERESTING ARTICLE ON THE CONTRACTOR AND THE WALLPAPERING JOB. IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE CRUX OF THE ENTIRE MATTER IS THE EXPERTISE (IN THIS CASE,THE LACK OF IT)OF THE CONTRACTOR IN NOT DETERMINING THE CONDITION OF THE WALLS PRIOR TO ENTERING INTO A CONTRACT. THEREFORE,I BELIEVE THAT THE BURDEN OF THE ADDITIONAL WORK FALLS QUITE ETHICALLY ON THE CONTRACTOR.
AVI ROSENFELD

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.


  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment
stub