Dear Jane,

I work in an industry where bonuses are common. My prior law firm handed two bonuses a year; one in June and the other in December. Last week, my boss took us to lunch at a bar and spent the entire time jabbing the “we can’t afford it” line with his fork. No Christmas bonus. Nothing. Zilch.

I’ve killed it this past year and feel like I deserve a Christmas bonus. Every year I’ve gotten a Christmas bonus, usually in the amount of a few hundred dollars, the most being $1000. Also, the company is performing well; so I’m definitely NOT on a sinking ship. Besides, I’ve counted on this bonus for 3 months, and he tells me two days before Christmas that we can’t afford it.

What should be the proposed course of action? I don’t want to let this slide. I simply want what I deserve and am looking for a reasonable way to approach this.

 ANSWER

Giving out year-end bonuses or gifts is a generous gesture on the part of an employer. Thus, there is no specific legislation that makes such generosity an irrevocable obligation or a binding duty on the part of the employer. Often, depending on the circumstances, they may be considered part of an employee’s overall remuneration. Bonus plans are governed by a contractual framework. These may weigh their amounts, criteria, and periodicity of payment – all of which is specified in the employment contract or in a collective agreement.

End-of-the-year bonuses are truly discretionary. Unless the following facts destroy the discretionary aspect of the traditional Christmas bonus:

  • If the employer promises in advance to pay a holiday bonus
  • If the bonus is promised at the time of hire
  • If the amount of the bonus is reserved from a percentage of sales to the “bonus pool”
  • If the bonus is to provide employees an incentive to stay or to work more efficiently

The answer to your question: A Christmas bonus is a gift but not a vested right unless one of the above four facts destroy its discretionary aspect.

Good luck!

The brutal and straightforward answers to HR-related queries and concerns. Send in your queries with the subject line ‘Ask JANE HARPER’ at info@thehrdigest.com

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