What are my rights if my company wants me to return part of my sign-on bonus even though I was fired and did not quit?

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What are my rights if my company wants me to return part of my sign-on bonus even though I was fired and did not quit?

Approximately 3 years ago, I accepted a written offer for employment for a job; I began 5 months later. The offer included a one time sign on bonus that I’d have to repay in part if I quit with or without cause before a year was up. I was fired 3 months after I started. Now the company wants to me pay them back for the prorated bonus for those 3 months. The agreement has the repayment requirement contingent on employment being terminated by me. However, I didn’t terminate my employment, they fired me. Do I still have to pay them back?

Asked on April 26, 2011 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

This is a contractual matter--you are bound by the terms of the employment offer, offer lettter, any employment agreement, etc. You need to abide by the terms you agreed to, but not go beyond them. Therefore, if the agreement only required you to return part  of the bonus is you quit, but not if you were fired, then it would seem that you do not have to repay the bonus. If you want a more definitive answer, however, then you should consult with an employment attorney. Bring a copy of the offer letter and any other relevant documents, correspondence, etc. and let the attorney review them and the situation. It's often important to look at the entirety of documents in order to fully understand how they operate and their terms. From what you write, you should be in good shape, but if your company keeps insisting, you really should meet with a lawyer.


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