Can I Sue to Get the Bonus I Was Promised?
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Dear Annie: When I was hired by my company last year, two managers promised me a bonus of 20% of my salary if certain goals were met. That was instrumental in my deciding to take the job. But now, having exceeded the stated goals, I've gotten no bonus. I didn't get the promise in writing, although one of the bosses did mention it in an e-mail. Do I have any legal recourse? -- Show Me the Money

Dear Show Me: Well, maybe. It's unclear whether your bosses' promise meets the standard for an oral contract, which would carry the same weight as a written one (although the e-mail documentation does help). Even if not, Weyman Johnson, an employment lawyer and partner at Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker in Atlanta, says that a court might regard your claim as an equitable action, known in legalese as a quantum meruit. Loosely, that is Latin for "Pay the guy what he's got coming to him."

However--and isn't this refreshing?--Johnson doubts that hiring a lawyer would be such a hot idea. "Pursuing this in court may well be more damaging to your career than the bonus is really worth," he says. "Try going through internal dispute-resolution channels first. Most companies have an ombudsman or some other formal mechanism for resolving disputes like this. It might even go all the way to arbitration." He adds, "Taking this route is politically risky too, but it might be less irritating" to the people above you. Good point.

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