Employer’s Delayed Payment of Bitcoin to Employee

QUESTION

Philadelphia

Kvod HaRav Linzer:

An Israeli man was hired to do some contract work, and the agreement was that the final month ‘s work would be paid in Bitcoin. The employer never paid that month’s salary, despite the employee repeatedly asking to be repaid. Finally, over 5 years later, the employee received the payment of 3 bitcoins. The sum is worth much more than when it was to be originally paid, but the employee lost the opportunity to potentially sell when the price was much higher. What does the employer owe now as fair recompense? Thank you.

ANSWER

Without having had a chance to research this more closely, my initial response is that, while the employer clearly transgressed by not paying the worker on time, he (the employer) does not owe his worker any compensation.

This is for two reasons:

(1)There is no way of knowing whether the worker would have sold the Bitcoin when it was at its height. It is just as likely that he would have sold it when it was worth far less than it is now. Maybe the employer did him a favor—or not—but we can’t know. (For example, 1 bitcoin was $2.5k mid-2017, jumped to $15k in Jan 2018, went down to $4k in Jan 2019, $7k Jan 2020, then jumped to $30k by Jan 2021, $47k Jan 2022, and now is at $17k.)

(2) This is only gramma of hefsed (indirect cause of loss), which is patur mi’tashlumim (exempt from payment). See Rosh on Bava Kamma 2:6

אילימא בחצר דלא קיימא לאגרא וכו’ זה לא נהנה וזה לא חסר הוא פירש ר”י דהוא הדין נמי בחצר דקיימא לאגרא וגברא דלא עביד למיגר דפטור כיון דלא נהנה אף על גב דגרם הפסד לחבירו דאפילו גירש חבירו מביתו ונעל הדלת בפניו אין זה אלא גרמא בעלמא

A similar—but more obvious case of real loss—is discussed in Urim VeTumim, Tumim 74:12, who looks at a case where the debtor kept on pushing off paying back the loan, and when he finally did, the coins he paid back with—which had been agreed upon to be acceptable payment—were no longer valid (but would have been able to have been used had they been given when the loan was due). He considers the possibility that the debtor is liable because of causing a loss, but then rejects it because it is only gram hefsed (indirect cause of loss)

מהרש”ל (שם פ”ט סי’ יג) רצה לפסוק מזה דהמלוה לחבירו לזמן, ובזמנו היה תובעו והוא דחהו בלך ושוב, ובין כך נפסל מטבע, חייב לשלם לו מטבע היוצא אח”כ… אפשר דדינו אמת, הואיל ודחהו בלך ושוב אם כן היה גרם בהפסדו, ואילו פרעו בזמנו היה מוציאו במקום אחר. אך מ”מ לא נראה לי, חדא דהוא גרם בעלמא…

That being said, if there was a definite, quantifiable loss, then I would say that the employer would be chayav bidinei shamayim (morally responsible) to pay the amount that the worker lost. This is based on Bava Kamma 55b-56awhich deals with 4 cases of gram hefsed (they are not exactly parallel to our case, however, because they are about actual damage—gram nezek—not causing opportunity loss)

תניא, אמר ר’ יהושע: ארבעה דברים, העושה אותן פטור מדיני אדם וחייב בדיני שמים, ואלו הן: הפורץ גדר בפני בהמת חבירו, והכופף קמתו של חבירו בפני הדליקה, והשוכר עדי שקר להעיד, והיודע עדות לחבירו ואינו מעיד לו

So, while the person certainly did not act correctly, I don’t see that tashlumim is relevant here.

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