In the July 3, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a 20% bonus disappears:
When I was hired, my offer letter included the promise of an annual 20% bonus. Recently I was transferred internally, but there was no notice of a change in my compensation deal. Bonus time came around but neither my old or new department budgeted for my bonus. I’ve been making monthly appeals to my boss, who keeps getting the runaround from Accounting. It turns out that no one else at my level gets bonuses. To make matters worse, the company was acquired and all our jobs are up in the air.
Is there any way I can get the bonus I’m due? The amount is substantial. This sounded too good to be true when I got the offer letter, but there it is in black and white: 20%.
I don’t ordinarily tackle questions that require legal advice, but there’s also a matter of principle here. It seems the company is breaking a simple agreement and it’s worth discussing how to deal with that. However, my advice is not legal; for that you’ll need an attorney.
Since your offer letter promised an annual 20% bonus in writing, and since you got no other written notice to the contrary, then I think the company has an obligation to pony up the money. While a company may have the right to reassign you to a different job or department, I don’t believe it’s got the right to withhold compensation.
If your boss is “getting the runaround from Accounting,” that’s not your problem. Accounting doesn’t decide whether you’ll be paid; your employer does. This passing of the buck suggests that who’s getting the runaround is you.
Given the circumstances, I’d pursue this quickly and create a document trail. If you get laid off before you put the issue on the table, it’s going to be harder to resolve it.
Take this to the highest level HR manager you can. Put a copy of your offer letter on the desk and politely ask what the problem is. (Keep the original under lock and key.) The difficulty is that you’ve waited a long time since the bonus was due, but that doesn’t excuse your employer. I’d also ask HR for a written statement about the company’s position on the matter — build that document trail.
Listen to what the HR manager has to say. If there’s no resolution within a week, send a certified letter (with proof of receipt) to HR outlining the situation, and copy the letter to your attorney. Do not say anything accusatory in the letter: Be purely factual and request your bonus.
It’s unfortunate that you need help to get paid what you were promised. But my expectation is that this is going to require the help of an attorney. When your boss blames Accounting for not paying you, you can blame your attorney for any awkwardness, too.
By the way: Don’t let the idea of turning to lawyer make you uncomfortable. A good lawyer will work with you to control legal costs, and to develop a strategy for collection that avoids spending more than the recovery would be worth. Start with a consultation to help you decide what your best options are, and to estimate the costs.
Ever get paid less than you were promised? Was it in writing? What did you do to recover the money?