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does an employer have to pay a promised bonus (verbal/IM)? California

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  • does an employer have to pay a promised bonus (verbal/IM)? California

    Hello everyone

    I'm a computer programmer for a large company in California. A month ago (mid July), I was told that I would receive a significant bonus in the month of August. Soon after, I was told the specific date: August 15th. This was verbal, in one-on-one meetings with my manager.

    It is now August 13th, and I've been told that the bonus will be pushed back until 9/1, or possibly even 9/15. This was told to me over instant messenger by my manager. She specifically states in the IM that the bonus promised for 8/15 has been moved back to 9/1 or possibly 9/15 (I've saved the log).

    Here is the problem: I have been given an incredible offer from another company and want to leave my current job. For various reasons I must start at the new company by September 8th. I would like to give my current employer the customary two-weeks notice, but my fear is that if I give my two-weeks notice now, they will renege on the bonus.

    Is there any law that states whether a bonus promised by a certain date *must* be paid if I worked until that date? i.e. since the bonus was promised by 8/15, and if I work through 8/15, have I met the employment requirements to receive that bonus (even if it is later moved back)? Can a bonus be considered part of an agreed salary (i.e. can I interpret the bonus promise as, "work until 8/15 and we will pay you an extra $xxx".)

    If you do not think that I am guaranteed the bonus by law, my only alternative is to wait until 9/1 to see if I receive the bonus, then give them less than one week of notice. This seems unprofessional and I would rather avoid this route if I can.

  • #2
    The problem with verbal "contracts" is not that verbal contracts cannot be enforced, but rather that it is difficult to determine the exact nature of the contract when the parties probably will not agree with what has been said. I am going to suggest that you download the CA-DLSE manual and read section 35. Per CA-DLSE, not all bonuses are unconditionally due. In fact based on the reading of that section, most bonuses are not unconditional due. CA-DLSE talks about exactly which factors determine make the bonus payment unconditional.

    The problem is with a verbal contract, you are likely to say one thing and the employer is likely to say something else. Commissions are "tilted" in the employee's favor per the CA-DLSE rules, but bonus payments are not. Per CA-DLSE most bonus payments are in fact not unconditional, so the burden of proof is on the employee to show otherwise. Which perhaps you are going to have some trouble providing. Worse, let's assume that CA-DLSE is the all-seeing Oracle, who knows everything. There is nothing you have said (yet) that indicates even if CA-DLSE believed you that we have an unconditional bonus payment.
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
    Philip K. **** (1928-1982)


    • #3
      Great link, thank you

      It's sad that my best route, monetarily speaking, is to shaft my employer by waiting as long as possible for the bonus and then leaving with little notice

      Can you think of any way to socially engineer a promise of unconditional bonus without tipping them off that I'm leaving?


      • #4
        The ethical thing might be to ask your future employer for a signing bonus and/or an increase in this signing bonus due your early departure from your present employer. Remember you might need your current employer in the future for references.
        I am not an attorney. My personal opinions are not legal advice.

        "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." --- Franklin Roosevelt

        The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. --- Martin Luther King Jr.

        A trap was set once upon a time; however, the designer fell in himself!!