Bonus taken back

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Bonus taken back

My employer told me they were really
appreciative and planned to give me a bonus.
They stated it was large so it would come
over the course of 2 or 3 pay periods.
In total the bonus was about 10k.
Each pay period that the bonus came – I
spoke to the 2 owners, thanked them, let
them know I was grateful, and both
commented on how deserving I was.

3 months later – my pay was stopped. Payroll
informed me the owner stopped it because
he didnt mean to pay me that much in bonus
and his plan was to stop my payroll until the
bonus was paid back.

I never signed anything. I never agreed to
anything. He sent me an apologetic email
saying he made a mistake and would need to
stop my pay so that I can ‘pay him the money
I owe him’ back. I was put in a situation
where I had to do it. There was no debate. If i
didnt, it was my job. Because he positioned it
as if he made a mistake, was apologetic, and
said he needed it, I wrote a check for a few
thousand. And the rest he just stopped my
pay and/or took out of future checks. In total I
paid back about 8k.

I stayed with the company for a year after
that. But that incident was the beginning of
my end with them.

Am I entitled to proceed on this? Is it worth
the fight? Are penalties involved?

Asked on March 13, 2019 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

You gave him the money back: that means you gave up your right to proceed. He could not have taken the money out of your account or sued you for it: once he gave it to you, it was yours. But unless you had a contract protecting your employment or guarantying your job, he *could* fire you if wanted--with a written employment contract, you were an "employee at will" and could be terminated  at any time for any reason. As you write, you chose to take steps to preserve or protect your job. We are not saying that was the wrong decision--if it bought you an extra year of employment, it was likely a good choice. But by agreeing to give the money back when he in fact had no legal claim to recover it from you, you gave up the right to sue for it: you chose to return it to him, and whether that was ulimately a good, bad, or indifferent choice, it was your choice. Having chosen to give the money back, you have no right to it. 


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