I own a retail chain that sells men’s and lady’s apparel. Each of my stores is run by a manager – reliable, trustworthy people who worked their way up from a regular salesman to an outlet manager over a number of years, after having proven themselves trustworthy and reliable.
One night, about a month ago, I was going over the revenues and it seemed that one of the stores was not doing so well. It was losing money and something there didn’t make sense – the store had a normal flow of sales and merchandise, but the revenues were too low. That could only mean one thing – someone there was stealing money.
That night I called in a private detective who installed some hidden cameras. After one week we checked the cameras and I was shaken to the core. My most trusted employee, the store manager himself, who had been working for me honestly for the past 32 years and was about to retire, was stealing from me, his own employer! I waited a few more weeks, perhaps it was just a slip up, but the pictures repeated themselves week after week. Finally, after a month of this, I couldn’t stand it anymore. The following morning, just as the store was opening, I went over and fired him on the spot. I told him that if he ever came back and demanded severance pay I would turn him over to the police. I made him sign that he would never ask for severance pay, which he did. Then he took his things and left the store. I was so boiling mad at his breach of trust, how could such a loyal employee do such a terrible thing?…
Now, three months later, I started thinking about it. Could I have been wrong? Perhaps I do own him severance pay or some sort of compensation for all the years that he worked for me faithfully? Could the disclaimer be invalid since I extracted his signature when he was under threat of the police? Please advise me, dear rabbi. I want to do the right thing.
Wanting to do the right thing is a great mitzvah and I commend you for it. Halachically, firing a worker caught stealing without prior notice is permitted. If lodging a complaint with the police or any other threat that you gave was a valid and permissible threat and you could have gone through with it according to din Torah, the disclaimer is valid.
As to paying severance pay – the Halacha that obligates employers to pay severance is rooted in the accepted practice to do so. Therefore, whatever the law is in the matter is also the Halacha. You must consult with your lawyer about severance pay and withholding it.
See Choshen Mishpat 306:8 and “Alon Hamishpat” 32 page 2: It is halachically permissible to fire an employee who causes irreparable damage without prior notice. An employee who stole often usually does not know how much money he stole and it cannot be tracked, therefore he can be fired.
One can claim his signature was extracted by force when the threat was viable and illegal according to din Torah.
Many current poskim permit filing a complaint with the police against a thief who steals regularly (See Shut HaRashba part 1, 612, and see Tzitz Eliezer 19:52). The complaint should be with intention to prevent the thief from stealing again or to protect the public from harm — but not for the purpose of gaining personal benefit or money. Therefore, one cannot link forgoing severance pay with filing a complaint with the police. Nevertheless, one cannot say that the threat was to do something against din Torah, for if it had been done it would have been permitted, therefore his disclaimer is valid and binding.