Possible Bonus Payment Not Written in Severance Agreement – What Should I Do?

Question: After 7 years of working a job I was eliminated, offered 14 weeks severance, paid salary with accrued vacation paid (which I received). Severance agreement question: They offered to pay me for the employee eligible bonus, if there is one paid out to all employees – determined by the amount the company made on a special project. This I am told cannot be put into the severance agreement. I was told in an email “…bonus is not included in agreement since we never know if we are going to receive one.” She sent me an email where she says “As agreed, in return for a signed agreement, you are eligible for bonus.” Should it be in the agreement? Do I need an attorney to help me look at the agreement?

Martin, Port Chester, NY

Answer: If there is one “rule” for thinking about severance agreements, it is this: once you sign it, you cannot go back and raise any claims based on promises or events in the past, for two basic reasons: first, the release in a severance agreement is all-encompassing, covering every single kind of existing claim under the sun. Second, severance agreements almost always state, “Nothing outside of this severance agreement counts – whether it’s said orally or in writing.”

There is nothing wrong, illogical or problematic with an employer writing in a severance agreement, “If other employees receive a bonus, you will too; if other employees do not receive a bonus, you will not.” You should ask your employer to place that into the severance agreement; there’s really no reason they should be reluctant to do that.

If your employer still refuses to do so, ask that they place that same language into a signed letter or agreement, signed AFTER the severance agreement; that way, the release in the severance agreement will not affect it, because releases do not cover “future claims” in writing, just those in existence prior to the release being signed.

Do you need an attorney to look over the agreement? If you want to know what it says, legally, then you do. I suggest you do have any attorney look it over.

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Best, Al Sklover

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