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Time Out at Work: Do I Have to Tell My Boss?

Published on Wednesday September 11th, 2019

Question: I am a salesman in a store. When no client is present, I play crossword to pass time. Do I have to tell my boss?

Answer: Your question is very common. While many people give their 100% at work, many are those who see nothing wrong with dealing with their personal affairs when there is no work. Some employers accept this behavior; this is the case regarding the use of the internet. When companies need open access to the internet in their employee’s computers, policies were usually very strict. But with time, many firms opted for more flexible rules, realizing that the world did not stop spinning if their staff was from time to time following sports news or were conducting an urgent bank transfer.

That said, employers have good reason to be wary of this kind of behavior. Here are the main causes: employees are perhaps careful to do the crossword, reading novels, etc. Only during 'downtime', but these hobbies tend to lengthen the time perceived by the employees. It may be that when there are no clients, your boss wants you to fold clothes or to take care of administrative tasks.

Entertainment can be very addictive; when a person walks in, you can be in the middle of a difficult definition, and therefore do not help him out immediately. It’s not a salesman attitude, it could scare away customers. Even if you immediately put your crossword grid away, the buyer will probably feel that your attention is not totally focused on your work.

Doing other things during working hours can result in a negative attitude. In the same way that the employers demand a certain work clothing, they usually ask a certain working atmosphere.

There is nothing new in these remarks, the Rabbis of the Talmud era tackle the subject. We learn in the Tosefta (collection of sayings parallel to the Mishna):
"If someone hires his friend in a store, allocating him half of the profits; if [the employee] is a craftsman, he should not practice his own profession because this would divert his attention from the job; however if [the owner] is in the store with him, it is allowed. If someone employs his friend in a store, by allocating him half the profits, the latter cannot buy or sell other products than the ones in the store, and if he did, the benefit must be shared.[1]”

The Tosefta is speaking about an employee who is a real partner, because he receives a portion of the profits, and he is therefore interested in the success of the business and is motivated to make it grow as well. Nevertheless, the rabbis tell us that the partner is entitled to demand that one does not engage in other activities that might be distracting.

Maimonides wrote: “In the same way that employees are forbidden to steal the wages of the poor [worker] or [even] to delay his payment, the poor [worker] also has a duty to not steal the work [the effort to the] boss, by being lazy and spending his day deceiving him. He must rather be rigorous to make the most of his time” [2].

It is true that you may not be lazy, but killing time is proof indifference. And even if this hobby is not a bad one, you must get permission from your employer if you wish to continue.

[1] Tosefta Baba Metsia, Chapter 4:7.

[2] Code of Maimonides, rental and hiring 13:7 laws

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