What are my rights I just left my job and I was paid a bonus by my employer last year but 1/3 of it was placed by my employer in deferred annuity?

I have since left the company (after the bonus was paid) and they are now telling me that by me leaving I have voluntarily forfeited the amount placed in deferred annuity. Do I have any recourse on this money? As far as I know it was given in goodfaith for recognizing my contribution to the success of the company.

Asked on July 25, 2015 under Employment Labor Law, Illinois


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Was this a bonus pursuant to a written bonus plan or a written employment contract? Or was it a discretionary bonus--i.e. one where, without having to provide it to you, the employer choose voluntarily to give you a bonus?

If was pursuant to some written agreement or plan and you met that agreement/plan's qualifications for a bonus, then they had to pay the bonus however the agreement/plan specified. Check the written agreement/plan, and if the money was supposed to come straightaway to you and not be placed in a deferred annuity and not be subject to forfeiture, they have to pay you the money; they are obligated to follow the terms of the written agreement or plan. You could sue to enforce the plan's terms (a breach of contract suit) if necessary.

However, if it was a discretionary bonus, the employer was under no obligation to pay it--it was purely voluntary. Since it was completely voluntary, the employer was free to put any terms or conditions on it that the employer wanted (after all, they didn't need to give you any bonus at all), such as it being partly placed in a deferred annuity and being subject to forfeiture if you left the company. In this case, you would have no recourse.

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