How can I get the company-wide bonus that I was denied?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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How can I get the company-wide bonus that I was denied?

Greetings. My company has an annual company-wide team bonus that all of the
FTEs that have been with the company one year or more receive. The team bonus
needs to be approved by the board first. I did not receive my bonus as everyone
else did and no notice was given to me as to that fact. Surprised, I contacted
HR via email and was told that the bonus can be taken away if you receive a
score of 2.0 or lower out of 5.0 on your annual review which I did. HR also
stated in the email that this is not a publicized fact except in the HR Manual.
So that specific metric is not a published part of the equation and is not
mentioned during our company-wide address. During this address we find out how
the company performed against the goals set for the year and whether the
company will receive the bonus. We achieved the goals and the bonus was
distributed company-wide. What can I do at this point? Now I have to get a
hardship withdrawal from my 401K so I am losing money and interest on the money
I had to withdraw. What can I do at this point to get my bonus? Thank you for
your time and prompt response to my inquiry.


Asked on March 21, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, Maryland


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

The following answer is based on your statement "published part of the equation," which strongly implies that you are given a written bonus letter or agreement, etc., which sets forth the metric(s) for the bonus. If there was no written bonus letter or agreement, then the answer is simpler: they could choose who to give a bonus to, and  who to not give a bonus to, at will, and you would have no rights to a bonus. Under "employment at will," an oral promise of a bonus is not enforceable and the employer may renege on it at will.
If the HR manual does state that you can be denied the bonus if you score a 2.0 or lower on your annual performance review, then there is most likely nothing you can do: having that caveat or warning in the HR manual (assuming that you were given a copy) is sufficient written notice of the policy as to apply it to you. If you were never given a copy of the manual, that would be different--you would not have had the oppportunity for notice and so the policy could not be applied to you. In that case, you could sue the employer for breach of contract: for violating the terms of the written bonus letter, agreement, etc.
But if given the manual, you are considered to have been provided notice, even if you never actually read or paid attention to it: the law requires that notice be provided, but cannot control whether you actually read the notice, etc. The fact that the restriction is found in a different place than the rest of the bonus information is irrelevant: you are bound to the written policies of your employer, so long as they were provided to you, even if those policies are not all consolidated together.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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