Can I Sue My Employer for Not Paying My Bonus in California?

can i sue my employer for not paying my bonus

Have you found yourself wondering, “Can I sue my employer for not paying my bonus?” If so, you’re not alone. Bonuses are a common form of additional compensation that employers use to reward employees for their hard work, dedication, and achievements. However, when an employer fails to fulfill their promise of a bonus, it can be frustrating and financially challenging for the employee.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the intricacies of bonus payments in California, the different types of bonuses, and, most importantly, what you can do if your employer hasn’t paid you the bonus you earned.

What Exactly is a Bonus, Anyway?

A bonus is extra money employers give their employees on top of their usual pay or salary. It’s like a special reward for doing a good job or achieving certain goals. Bonuses can be given for various reasons, such as meeting performance targets, reaching sales quotas, or celebrating important milestones. They’re a way for employers to recognize and appreciate their employees’ hard work and dedication.

Discretionary Bonuses:

  • Given at the employer’s discretion.

  • Not promised in advance, and the employer can choose not to pay them.

  • Examples include holiday bonuses, unexpected performance rewards, or special recognition bonuses.

Non-Discretionary Bonuses:

  • Promised to employees in advance, often outlined in an employment contract or company policy.

  • Typically tied to specific criteria, such as meeting sales targets or achieving performance goals.

  • Must be paid to employees who meet the predetermined criteria.

Understanding the type of bonus you are entitled to is crucial when considering legal action for non-payment.

My Employer Hasn’t Paid My Earned Bonuses – Now What?

If you find yourself in a situation where your employer has failed to pay your earned bonuses, it’s essential to take the following steps:

  1. Review Your Employment Agreement: Check your employment contract or any written agreements outlining your bonus’s terms. Look for specific criteria that must be met to receive the bonus.

  2. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of your performance, achievements, and any promises made regarding the bonus. Note any communications with your employer regarding the bonus.

  3. Communicate with Your Employer: Reach out to your employer in writing, expressing your concern about the unpaid bonus. Provide documentation supporting your claim and inquire about the reasons for non-payment.

  4. Know Your Rights: Familiarize yourself with California labor laws regarding bonus payments and employee rights. 

What Does California Law Say About Bonus Pay?

California law recognizes the importance of pay bonuses and has specific regulations in place to protect employees. According to the California Labor Code:

  1. California Labor Code Compliance: Ensure that your employer’s actions comply with the California Labor Code. If your employer promised a bonus and fails to deliver, it may be considered a labor code violation, giving you grounds for legal action.

  2. Considered Wages: When you meet the criteria for bonuses that were promised to you, they are considered wages. This means they must be paid as per the state’s wage and hour laws.

  3. Employer Promises: If an employer promises a bonus and the employee meets the specified criteria, the bonus becomes legally enforceable.

  4. Timely Payment: Bonuses must be paid within the established time frame, as outlined in the employment agreement or company policy.

  5. Withholding Taxes: Employers are required to withhold taxes on bonus payments, similar to regular wages.

Understanding these key points is crucial when determining if you have a legal claim for unpaid bonuses.

How Do Bonuses Affect Overtime Pay?

One common question employees have is whether bonuses should be factored into overtime pay. In California, non-discretionary bonuses must be included when calculating overtime pay for non-exempt employees. This means that if you’ve earned a non-discretionary bonus during a pay period, it should be considered when determining your overtime rate.

How Do Bonus Payments After Termination in California Work?

If your employment is terminated before you receive a promised bonus, California law still requires the employer to pay the bonus if it was earned before the termination. However, the timing of the bonus payment may vary depending on company policies and employment agreements.

Can I Sue My Employer for Not Paying My Bonus in California?

Yes, you can sue your employer for not paying your bonus in California if:

  1. The Bonus was Promised: If your employer promised a bonus and you met the specified criteria, it becomes a legal obligation.

  2. The Bonus was Earned: The bonus is considered earned if you fulfilled the requirements outlined in your employment agreement or company policy. 

  3. Employer Fails to Pay: If your employer fails to pay the promised and earned bonus within the agreed-upon time frame.

How to Recover Your Unpaid Bonus?

If you’re considering legal action to recover your unearned bonus, follow these steps:

  1. Consult with an Employment Attorney: Seek the advice of an experienced employment attorney to evaluate the merits of your case.

  2. File a Wage Claim: If communication with your employer doesn’t resolve the issue, you can file a wage claim with the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE).

  3. Consider Legal Action: If the wage claim process doesn’t result in a satisfactory resolution, you may choose to file a lawsuit against your employer for breach of contract or violation of labor laws.

  4. Gather Evidence: Compile all relevant documentation, including employment contracts, communication with your employer, and performance records.

  5. Negotiate a Settlement: Your attorney may engage in negotiations with your employer to reach a settlement before pursuing a lawsuit.

How an Attorney Can Help You

Navigating the legal complexities of a bonus dispute with your employer can be challenging, and seeking the assistance of an experienced employment lawyer is a crucial step in ensuring a fair resolution. Here’s how an attorney can help you in your case:

  1. Legal Expertise and Guidance: An employment attorney brings specialized knowledge in labor laws, offering clear interpretations and explanations of your rights.

  2. Case Evaluation and Strategy: By thoroughly examining your employment contract, an attorney develops a strategic plan tailored to your situation, guiding you on negotiations, mediation, or legal action.

  3. Mediation and Negotiation: Your attorney represents you, advocating for a fair settlement, and facilitates cost-effective resolutions through alternative dispute resolution.

  4. Filing a Lawsuit: In the face of unsuccessful negotiations, your attorney guides you through initiating legal action, leveling the playing field against well-resourced employers.

  5. Protection Against Retaliation: Your attorney safeguards against employer retaliation, taking legal action in response to adverse consequences.

  6. Maximizing Compensation: An attorney can help maximize compensation by assessing the full extent of damages, negotiating with insurance companies or opposing parties, and advocating for the client’s rights in court if necessary. They leverage their legal expertise to ensure clients receive fair and comprehensive compensation for their injuries or losses. 

  7. Legal Representation in Wage Claims: Throughout the administrative process of filing a wage claim, your attorney increases the likelihood of a favorable outcome through professional advocacy.

can i sue my employer for not paying my bonus

Seek Justice with BLG’s Seasoned Attorneys

In conclusion, understanding your rights and the legal implications surrounding bonus payments is crucial if you’re considering legal action against your employer. If you find yourself asking, “Can I sue my employer for not paying my bonus in California?” remember that California labor laws are designed to protect employees, and you have legal options to pursue the compensation you’ve earned. Consulting with an experienced employment attorney is the first step toward asserting your rights and seeking justice for unpaid wages.

Have questions about recovering your unpaid bonus or facing issues with your employer? BLG is here to help. Our experienced employment attorneys specialize in California labor laws, ensuring you get the necessary legal support. Don’t let your hard-earned bonuses slip away – take action now!

Contact us today for a free consultation.


What happens if a bonus is not paid?

Employees may feel dissatisfied; legally, employees may inquire about the reasons and take legal action if necessary.

Can an employer hold back a bonus?

Depends on the employment contract and labor laws, employers can set conditions for bonus eligibility; withholding must align with contractual terms and legal requirements.

How do you deal with not getting a bonus?

Communicate with the employer for clarification; review the employment contract for terms; discuss performance and seek feedback; escalate concerns to HR or higher management if needed; consider legal options based on the contract and labor laws.

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