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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Master And Servant

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These are scarcely to be considered as technical terms in English law. The relationship which they imply is created when one man hires the labour of another for a term. Thus it is not constituted by merely contracting with another for the performance of a definite work, or by sending an article to an artificer to be repaired, or engaging a builder to construct a house. Nor would the employment of a man for one definite act of personal service - e.g. the engagement of a messenger for a single occasion - generally make the one master and the other servant. It was held, however, in relation to the offence of embezzlement, that a drover employed on one occasion to drive cattle home from market was a servant within the statute. On the other hand, there are many decisions limiting the meaning of "servants" under wills giving legacies to the class of servants generally. Thus "a person who was not obliged to give his whole time to the master, but was yet in some sense a servant," was held not entitled to share in a legacy to the servants. These cases are, however, interpretations of wills where the intention obviously is to benefit domestic servants only. And so in other connexions questions may arise as to the exact nature of the relations between the parties - whether they are master and servant, or principal and agent, or landlord and tenant, or partners, &c.

The terms of the contract of service are for the most part such as the parties choose to make them, but in the absence of express stipulations terms will be implied by the law. Thus, "where no time is limited either expressly or by implication for the duration of a contract of hiring and service, the hiring is considered as a general hiring, and in point of law a hiring for a year." But "in the case of domestic and menial servants there is a well-known rule, founded solely on custom, that their contract of service may be determined at any time by giving a month's warning or paying a month's wages, but a domestic or other yearly servant, wrongfully quitting his master's service, forfeits all claim to wages for that part of the current year during which he has served, and cannot claim the sum to which his wages would have amounted had he kept his contract, merely deducting therefrom one month's wages. Domestic servants have a right by custom to leave their situations at any time on payment of a calendar month's wages in advance, just as a master may discharge them in a similar manner" (Manley Smith's Law of Master and Servant, chs. ii. and iii.). The following are sufficient grounds for discharging a servant: (I) wilful disobedience of any lawful order; (2) gross moral misconduct; (3) habitual negligence; (4) incompetence or permanent disability caused by illness. A master has a right of action against any person who deprives him of the services of his servant, by enticing him away, harbouring or detaining him after notice, confining or disabling him, or by seducing his female servant. Indeed, the ordinary and only available action for seduction in English law is in form of a claim by a parent for the loss of his daughter's services. The death of either master or servant in general puts an end to the contract. A servant wrongfully discharged may either treat the contract as rescinded and sue for services actually rendered, or he may bring a special action for damages for the breach. The common law liabilities of a master towards his servants have been further regulated by the Workmen's Compensation Acts (see Employer'S Liability). A master is bound to provide food for a servant living under his roof, and wilful breach of duty in that respect is a misdemeanour under the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

A servant has no right to demand "a character" from an employer, and if a character be given it will be deemed a privileged communication, so that the master will not be liable thereon to the servant unless it be false and malicious. A master by knowingly giving a false character of a servant to an intending employer may render himself liable - should the servant for example rob or injure his new master.

Reference may be made to the articles on Labour Legislation for the cases in which special terms have been introduced into contracts of service by statute (e.g. Truck Acts).

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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Master And Servant'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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