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(Cinder McLeod For the Globe and Mail)
(Cinder McLeod For the Globe and Mail)

NINE TO FIVE

My company is clawing back my pay. What can I do? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

About eight months ago, I was offered a position at another company and chose to accept it. My company, in turn, made a counteroffer for me to stay. As part of the package, they gave me a signing bonus and a contract that I have to commit to for a year. At my year-end review, I was told that due to my signing bonus eight months ago, I am “potentially” not eligible for the company bonus payment, nor am I eligible for a raise.

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There is nothing in the contract I signed that stipulated that this was a condition, and my boss even said at the time “this will not affect any future raises or incentives.” Can they just go ahead and change their minds and not pay me what I am entitled to and have worked for?

I’m not sure how to fight this as I would not have been likely to stay had I known my future incentives would all be removed.

THE FIRST ANSWER

Bill Howatt

Howatt HR Consulting, Kentville, N.S.

This appears to be an ethical dilemma more than an employment law concern. Employers typically have discretionary authority over bonuses and raises, but there can be expectations defined by a collective agreement.

One option is to have a frank discussion with your manager. Prepare three key points that highlight your concern and present your case objectively, without emotion or threats. It is advisable not to assume that your manager does not care. Keep in mind that nothing has happened yet other than your manager making one statement.

Do your best not to assume the worst; have an honest and open conversation. Until you know what is going to happen, it’s prudent to be patient and confident that your employer values your contribution. If you don’t get what you want, you can always pursue the matter with human resources and senior management.

The worst case scenario is that you don’t get a bonus or a raise. The grass may not be greener on the other side, so before making any decision, evaluate how much you really enjoy your work, organization, people, flexibility, leadership and commute. Money is a necessary evil but it’s not everything. Be clear about what you may gain by leaving and what you would be giving up. Based on what you’re sharing, most likely this will all work out if you communicate and stay as positive as you can.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Sandra Safran

President of Sandra Safran HR Services, London, Ont.

Money is seldom the only or most important reason why people change jobs. They compare all aspects of the existing and offered jobs. When you accepted the counteroffer, was it solely due to the money and in spite of job problems? If money was your main motivation, it is unfortunate that you negotiated a monetary agreement and then didn’t obtain a written contract that would protect you.

Your employers obviously wanted you to stay, perhaps because of your good results or because you were needed for specific responsibilities, but your resignation could have damaged the relationship. Perhaps they decided to recoup some of the signing bonus by taking away your performance bonus and raise, which were not mentioned in the new contract. They may have been following a company policy about which you should have known. Unfortunately, you have no real recourse regarding the loss of the bonus and raise, although you could try to talk to your boss about the verbal promises made to you.

Decide whether you are willing to invest more time in the job, while continuing to do good work so that you can be eligible for next year’s bonus and raise. Or decide that the relationship has been damaged too badly to survive what you perceive to be broken promises and what your company may perceive as your lack of commitment to them.

The other company’s offer may no longer be an option, but if they wanted you eight months ago, and your current performance has been good, you are probably very employable elsewhere.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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