September 5 – The Worker and the Boss

September 5 – The Worker and the Boss

Deuteronomy 24:14

“You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns.” (Deuteronomy 24:14)

What are the responsibilities of management? The manager must not threaten. He has power over the welfare and livelihood of his employee; he must not use it to coerce. When an employer demands something unethical or illegal from an employee, such as offering a bribe to a prospective customer or demanding sexual favors, the sins of cheating and immorality are compounded by the use of economic coercion.

Furthermore, all working arrangements, including pay, must be just. Unsafe working conditions in a coal mine or chemical plant are certainly unjust, but so are subminimum wages for immigrant grape pickers.

Finally, this justice includes equal or fair treatment. Justice does not permit an employer to give one person greater or less benefit for unfair reasons — discrimination for family (nepotism), friendship, race, or sex. Is it fair for the pay of executives to rise from twenty-nine times the average worker’s pay to forty times his pay within a span of six years? During this time when the U.S. automobile industry was threatened by imports, workers accepted reduction in pay to keep their product competitive in the marketplace, while executive income skyrocketed. Paul says management must be fair.

In addition to Paul’s teaching, Old Testament teaching concerning the owner’s responsibilities throws light on the responsibilities of management. God is totally against slavery and always has been. He did make laws governing the system, not by way of approval, but to protect the slave. The master was not to harm the slave (Exodus 21:20 ff.). There was to be a time limit for holding a fellow Israelite in slavery (Exodus 21:2-6), so that “slavery” was actually indentured servanthood for a limited time (Leviticus 25:39 ff.). When the slave was released, he was to be given assets so that he could start his new life of freedom (Deuteromy15:12 ff.). Not all these laws are applicable, of course, but principles embedded in the regulations should prove instructive.

Most of the admonitions were for the master, and this is certainly appropriate for any relationship in which one party is strong, the other weak. Management must not defraud, oppress, or harm, and must pay fair wages on time.[70] The established rest day must be given. Management[71] must not despise the cause of the employee (Job 31:13) but should reward and pay him well.[72] In fact, the master was to treat his servant as a son (Proverbs 29:21) or brother (Philemon 16).

Responsibilities of labor. The employee, for his part, is not to deceive or be violent,[73] is to honor his employer,[74] be faithful, and be patient and follow orders,[75] even when the employer doesn’t deserve it (1 Pet. 2:18-20). He is to work hard and not be lazy (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ff.; 2 Thessalonians 3:7).

Let me speak plainly about the implications of this teaching. The employer who pays less than a fair wage (in terms of what others are paid or compared to company profits) is stealing from the worker. The worker who carelessly arrives late, wastes time with small talk, inattentive work, long breaks, or daydreaming is a thief. And both sin against God, their true employer.[76]

Suppose labor does not live up to its responsibilities? Management has almost limitless economic power to enforce compliance. But suppose management does not live up to its responsibilities? Labor has only two possible recourses: protection by a higher authority or collective bargaining.

God is the ultimate higher authority, and one day he will settle all accounts. But in the meantime government is the only higher power, and government is often less powerful than management. Many multinational corporations are far more powerful than some of the nations in which they operate. Some can close down the economic life of a nation. In powerful states, the government can control private corporations but often chooses not to because of blatant or sophisticated corruption. Yet in enlightened and powerful governments, the rights of the laborer are normally protected in minimum ways and broad categories. Safety standards, minimum wages, and nondiscrimination have been legislated.

But for the specifics of how justice is worked out on the shop floor and in the office, or in the case of reluctant government initiative, management cannot always be counted on consistently to pursue fairness and justice in humility, from the heart. I conclude that Scripture demands justice and fairness from management, and the law of love would nudge a manager/owner toward providing all the benefits possible while making the business succeed for the sake of both the employees and owners. Profits for stockholders or management must be in line with benefits for employees. Labor, in like manner, may demand justice and fairness but should not coerce other benefits, especially when they might jeopardize the company’s welfare.

[70] Lev. 19:13; 25:43; Deut. 24:14 ff.; Prov. 22:16; Mal. 3:5; Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7; Rom. 4:4; 1 Tim. 5:18; James 5:4

[71] Exod. 20:9-11; 23:12; 34:21; Deut. 5:14; 15:18

[72] Prov. 17:2; 27:18; Jer. 22:13; Matt. 24:45, 47; Luke 12:35 ff.

[73] Zeph. 1:9; Luke 16:10-11

[74] Mal. 1:6; 1 Tim. 6:1

[75] Eph. 6:5; Col. 3:22; Titus 2:9; 1 Pet. 2:18

[76] IBE (2014) p 449-451.

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