What to do if I was paid a joining bonus at the start of my employment and there was no mention of my having to return it if I terminated my employment before the contract period?

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What to do if I was paid a joining bonus at the start of my employment and there was no mention of my having to return it if I terminated my employment before the contract period?

There was no mention in either my offer letter or my employee contract. There was a company policy which was shared to me which says the I have to return full amount if leave before 6 months and no money if I leave after 12 month. If I leave between 7-12 months, the amount is prorated. Now when it says prorated, I assumed it is prorated over 12 months. There are about 50 collegaues of mine who have same understanding as me. However, HR now says it’s prorated for my contract period which is for 2 years. I feel cheated and want to take legal action. Am I correct?

Asked on August 14, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Based on what you write, you are correct. First, unless the obligation to return the bonus in some circumstances was stated to you *before* you accepted the bonus, you would not have to return it: they cannot impose obligations on you to which you did not agree, and the time for agreement is *before* they handed you the money. Once you give someone money with no strings attached, it is their money.

Second, IF the policy was shared with you prior to you receiving the bonus, they you could be held to that policy: accepting the money with an awareness of an obligation to repay can be held to constitute your acceptance of or agreement to those terms. But you would only be obligated to the terms as they were shared with you before you received the money: they cannot change the terms after that.

Based on what you write, they do not appear to have a viable case for the money's return.


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