Paying a worker on time is a biblical commandment. In two places the Torah commands that a daily worker must be paid promptly –
- Vayikra 19:13 lo talin pe’ulat sakhir itkhah ad boker – “do not retain the wages of a hired worker until the morning,” and
- Devarim 24:15 be-yomo ti-ten sekharo, ve-lo yavo alav ha-shemesh – “on that day give him his wages; the sun should not set on it.”
The Mishna on our daf understands that the passage in Vayikra teaches the law of a day worker, who must be paid by sometime during the night following the completion of his work, while the law regarding a night worker, who finishes his work by morning, requires payment by the end of the day, based on the pasuk in Sefer Devarim. Someone who is paid according to the hours that he works must be paid the same day (or the same night) that he does his work. The principle presented by the Gemara is that sekhirut einah mishtalemet ela ba-sof – workers get paid only upon completion of their work – so once the worker has completed the agreed-upon time or project, the person who hired him has a reasonable amount of time to pay him his wages.
The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that if wages are not paid on time, the employer has transgressed both positive and negative commandments. Nevertheless, there are no further biblical prohibitions forbidding holding back wages beyond the first day or the first night. Rav teaches that there is a rabbinic prohibition that he calls bal tash’he – don’t “hold back” wages. Support for this idea comes from a passage in Mishlei (3:28) quoted by Rav Yosef, which teaches that a person should not tell his friend that he should “come back tomorrow” to receive payment that is due him.