Is it legal for an employer to withold verbally agreed and written bonuses?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Is it legal for an employer to withold verbally agreed and written bonuses?

I was promised a bonus of $445 for exceeding performance goals. It was verbally communicated with me, as well as visually shown via document that showed my performance, and how much I will receive as a bonus. A few hours later, they told my that I will not be receiving said bonus because the data was incorrect, that I did not meet requirements. However, we have our own employee tools to view said information, and all records point to performance being met. My direct supervisor showed me in her systems and tools that I did meet all criteria for recieving the bonus. I have been attempting to collect this bonus but they have been fighting against me. Is this legal despite digital documentation saying otherwise?

Asked on November 4, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Idaho


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

If you had a written bonus plan or employment agreement in  existence BEFORE you did the work that met the goals and *then* you met the goals, they'd have to pay you: you would have had a contractual guaranty of the bonus and would have performed your obligation(s) under the contract, which in turn would obligate them to honor their obligations and pay. If they don't pay in this case, you could sue them for breach of contract for the money. But if there was no written contract, agreement, plan, etc. in place before you did the work/met the goals, then there was no enforceable contract for the bonus; rather, after the fact, they freely and unilaterally decided to give you a bonus, but such a freely and unilaterially made promise may then freely be reneged upon; a promise made not in a contract may have moral force, but is not legally enforceable.

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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