I Was Expecting a Bonus Check, but Instead I Got a Pink Slip
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Dear Annie: I'm in shock. My boss just called me into his office, and instead of telling me what my annual bonus was (as I expected), he fired me--with no bonus. I don't have a written employment contract, but for the past six years my bonus has made up about half my income. Can they do this? -- Robbed

Dear Robbed: Yes. "It's remarkable how few senior employees have written protections for their bonuses, even very sophisticated people earning sizable incomes," muses Kenneth Taber, an employment lawyer at Pillsbury Winthrop in New York City. Getting a pink slip instead of a check, he adds, isn't all that unusual: "If you have an arrangement that, in your employer's eyes, yields a bonus that's greater than your true contribution, there may be a twisted incentive for your boss to make sure you're not still around" at bonus time.

Still, don't despair--yet. If you were told at some point that you would get a bonus this year, and if you relied on that oral assurance, it may be enforceable even without anything in writing. In addition, says Taber, "a lot depends on a company's past practices. For example, it will be a lot easier for an employee heading out the door to still insist on her bonus if she can show that she relied on a longstanding practice of the company to pay bonuses even to people who are leaving." Here's hoping one or both applies to you.

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