Even though the employer retracted, the workers still did not do any work.
Why, then, are the workers entitled to receive their wages?
(a) TOSFOS explains that the Gemara is discussing a specific case in which
the workers -- prior to their arrangement with the employer -- certainly
could have found work elsewhere yielding equivalent wages. Accordingly, the
employer has caused the workers damage, since, as a result of his commitment
to employ them, they did not take any other jobs for that time period. The
employer, therefore, must pay them for their lost work because of "Dina
d'Garma," the law of indirect damages.
According to Tosfos, the obligation is limited to this specific case in
which the worker could have found other, equivalent employment elsewhere had
he not committed himself to work for this employer, and now that he
committed himself to work for this employer he can no longer find other work
at the point when the employer retracts.
The KETZOS HA'CHOSHEN (333:2) questions this answer of Tosfos (he quotes the
question in the name of his son, Rav Yosef Dov). Why is the employer
obligated to pay the workers' loss of potential earnings? The Yerushalmi
(5:3) teaches that if one "ties up" someone else's funds (rendering the
owner unable to profit from them), he is exempt from liability, because it
is considered an indirect cause of loss ("Garma") for which one is exempt.
The same should apply in the case of an employer who "ties up" a worker,
indirectly causing him to lose potential earnings from other sources. Why,
then, should he have to pay the worker?
The Ketzos ha'Choshen answers that although it is only an indirect cause of
loss, the employer still is liable because of the Halachah of "Sheves." In
the laws of Nezikin, damages, when the damage that the Mazik did resulted in
the loss of work and earnings of the Nizak, the Torah explicitly obligates
the Mazik to pay for the lost earnings, despite the fact that it should have
been considered an indirect cause of loss for which a person should be
exempt. Thus, in the case of our Gemara, the employer is obligated to
compensate for the loss of employment that he caused to the worker, due to
the law of "Sheves."
Alternatively, we might answer that Tosfos learns like the RITVA. The Ritva
(73b; see Insights there) learns that the employer is obligated to pay the
worker for his lost employment not because of the law of Mazik, but because
of the law of *Arev*, guarantor. Just as a loan guarantor is obligated to
pay back the loan because the lender gave the money to the borrower based on
the Arev's word (that he would guarantee the loan), so, too, the employer is
obligated to pay the worker, because the worker lost other employment based
on the word of this employer. Since the obligation to pay the worker is
because of the law of Arev, the fact that it is an indirect cause of loss
("Garma") is not relevant. According to the Ritva's understanding of our
Sugya, the question of the Ketzos ha'Choshen is answered.
(b) The RAMBAN agrees with the ruling of Tosfos with regard to the
employer's obligation to compensate the workers for damage he indirectly
caused them, but he asserts that the Gemara need not be limited to the
specific case that Tosfos describes. Even in a case where the workers (prior
to the contract with this employer) could *not* have found employment
elsewhere, the employer is still liable to pay their wages. The reason for
this is that once the worker has already begun his job (such as by walking
to the field), the transaction between the worker and the employer is
consummated. This Halachah is the same as the Halachah in a case of a
standard sale -- once a buyer has made a Kinyan, he may not retract and is
obligate to pay the full price.
The SHULCHAN ARUCH (CM 333:2) rules in accordance with the Ramban. (Y.