What if you resign before a bonus is paid?

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Q: In early March, 2020, I expect to receive a substantial bonus, based on my contributions in calendar year 2019.  I am also informationally interviewing at a number of companies.  One company is expressing interest in my skill set and it is now moving quickly.  In early January, I had shared that I had a bonus coming in March.  They listened but now seem to be ignoring that information.  Now this new company is talking “offer” and start date, etc.  I don’t want to throw that bonus away.  How does this typically work?

A:  How exciting – that your search is moving so quickly!  And that you were awarded a bonus for your 2019 contributions.

Companies have a lot of discretion when it comes to awarding compensation.  An employer can decide who is eligible for a bonus, and when it is payable.  They do have to ensure that the compensation is awarded in a non-discriminatory way.  With the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act, this is even more important in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Many companies have bonus plan documents, which outline who is eligible as well as how and when the bonus is paid.  Review any information in your employee handbook or employment offer.  Also, some companies have this information on an employee’s only section of their website, along with other benefits information.  If you cannot find any documents, I would assume that you would forfeit the bonus if you do not stay through the date is it paid.

If your bonus is significant, there are a few options to consider. One, you could continue to pursue this opportunity and continue to gently remind the interested company that you have a bonus payable in March, 2020.  Sometimes while a search seems like it is moving quickly, it can stall for a number of reasons, including some reasons out of your control.  Two, you could pull yourself out of the running, and re-start your job search after you have the bonus in hand.  Three, you could mention to the interested company that any offer would need to compensate you for this miss compensation, assuming you receive an offer before the bonus is payable.  Some companies will offer a one-time hiring bonus (or similar) to compensate a new employee for a missed bonus.

I suggest continuing to mention it to the recruiter or hiring representative.  Don’t let them minimize it, especially if it is important to you.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.