If an employee, as a part of their job, travels at relativistic speeds (perhaps for space travel or scientific purposes), causing the amount of time they perceive to meaningfully desynchronize with the amount of time the Earth perceives, would their employer be required to pay their wages (or, if the difference is particularly high, minimum wage) based on the employee's perception of time, or the employer's?

We can assume the employer is on Earth for the purposes of this question, and that the employee remains within whatever country the employer is based in regardless of where they go (since taking into account international/space laws would add unnecessary complexity).

Answers can apply to specific jurisdictions, or be more general.


4 Answers 4


This has obviously never become a legal issue, so the answer is not settled, but it doesn't seem like there would be any good argument for anything other than using time as the employee experiences it.

If John Glenn spends 40 hours on space shuttle repair and NASA receives 40 hours' worth of work, the fact that they only noticed 20 hours going by doesn't seem to justify slashing the worker's wages.


The contract would need to specify

At present workers on the ISS are putting in less time than they are being paid for, by 1 second every hundred years. Their contract doesn’t deal with it and so far their employer has been OK paying them the 10-10 more than they earned.

The issue has not come up and will not come up for many years or even centuries. When it does, the contract will address it. For a fictional example, soldiers in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War were conscripted for 2 years subjective.

  • 1
    The natural follow-up is "What if the contract doesn't specify?" Still, I wonder how relevant the contract could even be. Any jurisdiction that has minimum-wage laws seems unlikely to permit the parties to contract around the definition of "hours." If they can, I've got a great FLSA scheme to start marketing.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 21:52

In German civil law, when the contract conditions does not specify the place of performance, then §269(1) BGB applies.

Since the perception of time (as far as I can see) has not been taken into account in the Civil Code, §269(1) BGB would probably form the base on any decision

  • the obligor's (employer's) perception of time at that place of performance

(or may lead to a request to the legislature to create a §269a - Place of perception of time).

§269 - Place of performance - German Civil Code (BGB)

(1) Where no place of performance has been specified or is evident from the circumstances, in particular from the nature of the obligation, performance must be made in the place where the obligor had his residence at the time when the obligation arose.


Whose perception of time matters for legal requirements to pay wages?

The employer's perception would prevail by default.

Absent a statutory or contractual definition of time, terms are to be construed in accordance to their plain meaning or to common practice. The latter requires that there be enough comparable situations in order to discern what qualifies as common, which seems unlikely for the scenario you describe.

Non-relativistic scenarios comprise the settings in which the vast majority of humans interact and enter legal relations. And generally speaking, labor legislation is devoid of indications that it encompasses scenarios other than non-relativistic ones. Accordingly, the employer's perception of time is likelier to prevail because it is more compatible with the premises and legislative intent behind enacted labor laws.

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