Yonah from Givat Shaul asks:
I usually give my workers a gift for the Yomim Tovim. This year, I
would like to give them a crate of Otzar Beis Din grape juice as their
festival gift. Is this permitted?
It is forbidden to repay a debt with sh’mittah produce. This
prohibition is rabbinic, derived from the Torah prohibition of trading in
sh’mittah produce (Rambam, Sh’mittah ve’Yovel, 5:14 and
6:14). Thus, paying a worker’s wages with sh’mittah produce is forbidden.
However, to feed him such produce while he is working in your house would be
permitted, even if this was part of your contractual obligations towards him.
Since the prohibition of paying a debt is rabbinic and when he eats it looks as
if he is a member of your household, there is no problem (Chazon Ish
13:26). The holiday bonus paid to workers is considered to be an integral part
of their wages. Paying this bonus from sh’mittah produce is therefore
forbidden. Any optional bonus could be paid from such a source.