Did Laban Have An Enforceable Employment Agreement With Jacob?

Chapter 29 of the Book of Genesis recounts Jacob's offer to work for his Uncle Laban for seven years in return for the hand of Laban's younger daughter, Rachel.  I assume that under then applicable choice of law principles the contract was governed by the law of Haran, now in present-day Turkey.  But what if Jacob and Laban had struck their deal in California?  Could Laban have enforced the contract?

One issue might be the seven year term.  Seven years is a long time (although they seemed to Jacob "but a few days, for the love he had for" Rachel).  In this regard, Laban could point to Section 2855(a) of the California Labor Code which provides:

"Any contract, otherwise valid, to perform or render service of a special, unique, unusual, extraordinary, or intellectual character, which gives it peculiar value and the loss of which cannot be reasonably or adequately compensated in damages in an action at law, may nevertheless be enforced against the person contracting to render the service, for a term not to exceed seven years from the commencement of service under it."

The statute does require that the contract be "otherwise valid" and Laban would need to prove that Jacob's services were of such a character so as to give them peculiar value, the loss of which could not be reasonably or adequately compensated in damages in an action at law.  That might well have been a problem for Laban as it appears that Jacob's services related to shepherding Laban's flocks.  

Assuming that Laban could have enforced the agreement against Jacob, Section 2855(a) would have precluded enforcement "beyond seven years from the commencement of service under it".  There are some statutory exceptions for personal service contracts in the production of phonorecords (as defined) and apprenticeship contracts (as defined).

Section 2855 has been on the books for a long time and I don't know why the legislature chose seven years as the maximum for personal services contracts.  Perhaps they were thinking of the long ago bargain between Laban and Jacob.

Tags: employees