Compensation Issues |
April 06, 2021

Can an Employee Take Legal Action for an Unpaid Bonus?

Workers all across California trust that bonuses will be paid as they are earned. Bonuses are part of a worker’s overall compensation package, and employees make decisions about whether to accept or continue employment based upon them. Unpaid bonuses hurt California families for the benefit of an employer. In many cases, a worker has the right to take legal action against an employer for unpaid bonuses. Employees do not have to forego the fair compensation to which they are legally entitled.

Contractual Bonuses

Bonuses are often written into employment contracts as a specific, enforceable part of an overall compensation package. Bonuses can thus be enforced as a provision of the contract through a breach of contract case. It is important to have an experienced employment lawyer review an employment contract to be sure that it is enforceable against the employer. Yet even if other provisions of the contract are not enforceable, an employee who has performed the work to earn a bonus will still be entitled to fair compensation for his or her efforts. An employment attorney can determine whether there are any legal issues that could complicate an otherwise straightforward breach of contract claim

Pay Discrimination

Even if a bonus is not written into a clear, enforceable contract, it can still be possible to recover an unpaid bonus through other legal claims. Pay discrimination is prohibited under federal and state law. The Equal Pay Act prohibits discrimination in pay based upon an employee’s gender. Discrimination based on an individual’s gender is also prohibited under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) as well as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

“Pay discrimination” includes all forms of compensation – including bonuses. If an employee is given a lower bonus than other employees or receives no bonus when others do, it is important to examine the differences in these employees. Did they complete different work? Did their performances differ? Were their results comparable? If there is no objective reason for the difference, the employee might have a claim for pay discrimination. 

Here, too, it is important for the employee to get legal advice. Discrimination claims can be difficult to prove. The employer almost always claims that there was some valid reason for the difference in pay, so a lawyer must find compelling evidence to overcome this defense. 

California Employment Lawyers For All Compensation Issues

Employees have a legal right to be fairly compensated for their work. This right stems from both contractual obligations as well as the state and federal laws that prohibit pay discrimination. Workers who are owed their unpaid bonuses should consult with an employment lawyer about their legal rights to enforce this obligation against their employers. 

Minnis and Smallets is a California employment law firm that protects workers’ rights. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with an experienced California employment law attorney.