MD's mistake means no bonus for associate

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A. How frustrating! It just goes to show that even large and successful organisations, whose business is dealing with money, can make the most rudimentary mistakes.

Unfortunately, law firm DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary advises that you almost certainly don't have a legal case because most bonus schemes are

non-contractual and are provided by an employer on a discretionary basis only. 'Just because an employee is eligible to take part in a bonus scheme does not mean that he or she is entitled to a payment. Eligibility and entitlement are quite distinct,' says DLA's Mary Walsh. 'You would be unlikely to succeed with a claim unless the decision to give a nil bonus was made in a manner which discriminated against you on the grounds of sex, race, disability, religion or sexual orientation. This does not appear to be the case as you say that your boss merely made a mistake about your status and the money for bonuses has now been used up.'

Your best bet, therefore, is to seek a diplomatic solution. Go to the HR department, explain the situation, and ask them to assist you, explaining in a non-confrontational way, that it was an honest mistake on the part of the company.

You could ask to be included in the graduate bonus round, just as a one-off, since that money has not yet been allocated, or to be awarded some kind of ex-gratia bonus. Another possibility is to request that the bonus that should have been paid this year, be paid next year. If they agree, ask for confirmation in writing of the amount.

The danger that you will annoy your boss by pursuing this matter is always there. From what you say, he has shown no interest in rectifying his mistake. You either decide to risk annoying your boss or you let the matter rest. If you do decide to pursue it, tell your boss that you have asked HR to see if any further money can be found and ask for his support. Be entirely straight about what you have said and done. By asking for your boss's help, rather than blaming him, and by being open and honest about going to HR, you may be able to diffuse a potential conflict with him.

Good luck!

A readers advises...

The decision not to put you on the associate's bonus list has already been made, funds have been allocated and were paid out. If the HR Department does not support you vis-à-vis the MD, and effectively suggest that he puts in a correction because of an error, or a subjective selection he was not authorized to make, then you should play the situation cautiously. If you like the work and the firm, hang in and earn yourself the bonus the old-fashioned way, by earning it through performance and not just by being categorized for a bonus list.

Next week's question: I have a long term career objective of working in equity research. I am a qualified accountant and am finding the switch over difficult to achieve, and am therefore reviewing career paths which will take me nearer my objective. I am currently focussing on a role as a portfolio analyst reviewing company performance to value corporate credits, and a role as an equity trader. Can you please advise which would be the more plausible route toward equity research - analysing company fundamentals/industry forces versus trading in the securities I would be researching?

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