What about an Employee?
It would appear from the words of the Rambam that since an employee, who has not been sold into slavery, does not share the same low spirits as the Eved Ivri, it would be permitted to require of him these tasks.
However, it appears that the Ra’avad disagrees. This can be derived from the fact that the Ra’avad disputes the Rambam’s explanation of the second example of the Sifri (which the Rambam explains as referring to a case in which the master instructs the Eved to perform a particular task without defining an endpoint) and one of the reasons for this is that the Ra’avad says that surely if one hires an employee, one may set him tasks that have no defined endpoint, and as such why should it be any different in the case of the Eved?
It is clear from the Ra’avad’s argument, then, that an Eved and an employee are equal in this regard – whatever is prohibited for a master to demand of his Eved would be forbidden for an employer to demand of his employee.
Lechem Mishneh disputes this assumption of the Ra’avad, though. The Torah prohibits a master from instructing his slave to do useless or demeaning work, he says, but this does not apply to a free person, as noted above, and thus an employee, who is not an Eved Ivri, may be given such tasks,and this would not serve as any indication as to whether it would be forbidden to ask an Eved to do the same.
Is an Employee Likened to an Eved Ivri or a “Free Man”?
In the light of the above, there appears to be a fundamental difference of opinion here. The Lechem Mishneh understands that when the Torah allows one to give such instructions to a “free” person, as the Rambam writes (Halacha 7), an employee is included in this – the prohibitions apply only to an Eved Ivri. The Ra’avad, however, understandsthat in this respect, an employee has the same status as an Eved, and whatever one may not request of an Eved Ivri one may not request of an employee either.
Other authorities who hold like the Rambam include the Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim, 169:1), who notes that it was customary to request (Jewish) domestic servants to do demeaning tasks, and queries this, due to the prohibition of asking an Eved Ivri to perform a demeaning task. He answers with two reasons: firstly, it is agreed upon at the time of employment and thus the servant knows and agrees in advance, and secondly, the Sifra allows this for a free man, and employees are considered as free men and not “slaves.”
The Basis of the Dispute
Beis Yitzchak (Orach Chaim, 32) explains that the difference of opinion between the Rambam and the Ra’avad is based on a fundamental difference of opinion as to how to regard the status of an employee. The Ra’avad sees an employee as being essentially “owned” to an extent by the employer, and thus with regards to these laws has the same status as an Eved Ivri, whereas the Rambam regards him as being obliged to the employer but not at all owned by him, and thus these prohibitions do not apply to an employee at all.
According to the Rambam the prohibitions of giving demeaning or unnecessary and useless tasks apply only to an Eved Ivri and not to an employee, and this appears to be the conclusion of the Magen Avraham. However, according to Ra’avad and the various Rishonim who understand that every employer has some sort of kinyan on the employee, it would be forbidden to demand such work from an employee.
The Ethical Imperative
It is worth noting that although until now we have been discussing this issue from a purely Halachic viewpoint, there is an ethical imperative that the Torah expects from us, above and beyond that which is strictly speaking permitted.
In this context, Rabbeinu Yonah (Sha’arei Teshuvah, Sha’ar 3, 60) forbids requesting any tasks, even from a “free” person, if there is a concern that he will carry out your wishes not out of genuine desire but because he is either too afraid or embarrassed to refuse.
Similarly, note the general instructions of the Sefer Chassidim (R’ Yehudah Hachassid, 1074) regarding excess demands from employees:
“If one hires an employee to do some work, or to teach his children, or other such matters, he should not trouble him too much, or more than he agreed with him to do at the outset. One shouldn’t ask anyone to do something that one knows he cannot do; for example, if you know that he is incapable of travelling more than a certain distance, do not ask him to travel further, even if he agrees to do so.”
 Ra’avad’s view, that there is some form of Kinyan that an employer has on his employee, is discussed at length by the Machaneh Ephraim (Schiras Po’alim, 1), who brings several other authorities who seem to concur with the Ra’avad on this.