Situation: Awaiting final offer from another job before I hand in my resignation to my current job. I just received a bonus from my boss (to be paid tomorrow).

Dilemma: Should I give the bonus back once I hand in my resignation?

Reasoning: I've read a lot of the posts here already, and it seems like a very common occurrence where there are a few resignations after bonuses are handed out. A lot of the comments reassure the OP because they say "it's not the boss's own money, so don't sweat it". But I work for a very small consulting firm (about 5 employees), so I know this money is most definitely coming out of our director's own pocket (it could've been funded through our project charges, but not too sure). The boss has been very good to me and I feel somewhat guilty to be taking the bonus and then immediately leaving. I'm resigning because I want to pursue other opportunities.

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    The bonus is for work you’ve already done, not for work you might do in the future, no? Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 1:45
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Returning bonuses received while job hunting
    – llrs
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 11:22
  • 4
    Why are they giving you a bonus?
    – pwned
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 12:13
  • 2
    Is the bonus for what you did, or what you will do? Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 20:03
  • 1
    Is a bonus being given to you only, or to every employee of the company? I'm not asking about the amount of the bonus - just whether everyone in the company received one. Also: was the bonus something planned for the year, based on hitting certain targets? Or, is it more of an end-of-the-year gift?
    – RDFozz
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 21:32

6 Answers 6


No, you should not.

A bonus is for past work. You've done that work, and you've earned the bonus. And think of it this way, would you have felt guilty if you left six months after getting a bonus? Three months? A month? Two weeks? A week? Would there ever be a day you felt guilty if you resigned that day, but not if you resigned the day after?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user44108
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 7:54

You need to check what your contract says, or what the paperwork coming with the bonus says.

If the bonus says it will be paid if you are still employed say on the 31st of December, you keep it if you are still employed on that day. If it says “if you are employed and no notice is given”, you have to repay it if you have given notice. If you give 14 days notice, you are still employed for 14 days.

It’s always easier to keep a bonus than to force the company to give it to you, so it’s preferable not to give notice before the bonus is in your pocket.

And while there may be a legal obligation to repay the bonus, there is no ethical obligation. The bonus is to reward you for good work done.

  • 1
    The same goes for stock options and pretty much any benefit the company offers. There should be a specific timeline for eligibility. Check the contract and the company policy. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 14:35
  • This is exactly why some incentive compensation has a vesting period, if yours does not, or you have reached a vested level, then there is no reason to return it or feel any sort of guilt for obtaining said bonus. Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 15:42

It is probably okay to keep the money.

However, given your recent edit that this is a five person company, I'd offer to give it back. Not because you owe it back (bonuses are generally for past work), but because the bridge is worth more if it hasn't been partially burned.

Now you don't say this, but if this bonus is an expected part of your pay don't offer it back.

  • Why do you think you burn bridges if you don't return a bonus they didn't ask back? Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 11:53
  • @PatrickHofman Not "burn", "partially burn" because if the small person shop had intended the bonus to help keep employees it could leave a bad taste in their mouth. Remember, I excluded if OP expects it (annual bonus, etc.) I'd tell OP 1 cash the check, and 2 on turning in his notice and giving the "it's not you, it's me" speech, to 3 offer verbally to repay it if necessary. That's the point where a classy boss who understands the world says, "Oh no, you've done a good job, keep it!" If boss says to repay it - OP saved a bridge that would have burned! Either way OP comes across classy. Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:13
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    "I'd offer to give it back" this is very wrong. In many/most roles you get paid like this: "You'll get $XXX,000 salary per annum and you'll get a bonus on date Date being 30% to 70% {whatever figures} depending on performance and sales." It is simply PART OF YOUR SALARY. You would no more "give back" a bonus to a company than you would "give back" your salary or simply "give them some money". It would be wholly irrational to do so. If, bizarrely, you suggested it the accountants would just say "obviously you can not do that".
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:40
  • @Fattie You are describing a situation where the bonus is part of your pay. Please reread my post and note the last sentence where I say, "if this bonus is an expected part of your pay don't offer it back." Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:22
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    JCC, I do understand what you're saying: but it's a non-existent distinction. I appreciate what you mean: "Fattie's point is that sometimes, in black writing, it explains your bonus will exist and is very explicitly a payment; but, there may be no such document here." But ............. it's part of your pay. Pay is pay. "Pay is pay is pay." It could be we're on different scales here. If the "bonus" was a bottle of scotch, sure, give it back (whatever). But "pay is pay", there wouldn't even be a mechanism to "give back" a substantial bonus.
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 15:37

I did something similar once. Working for a VERY small company and got a bonus right before deciding to leave. When explaining my resignation, I offered to return the bonus. The boss emphatically insisted that I keep the bonus anyway.

The general consensus on this site tends to lean towards the employee protecting themselves from the employer, due to large numbers of shady employers tricking their workers. HOWEVER, every work situation is different, and I've been lucky to work for mostly really great companies. Trust your instinct on this. If you feel the company needs the bonus money more than you, or that the bonus is implied to be an incentive to stay, then return it. The folks here saying "Bonuses are for past work!" are flat out wrong. Only YOU know the context of the bonus as its being given to you.

I would speak to your boss and indicate that you at least are having doubts about keeping the bonus. From the phrasing of your question, it sounds like you've had a good work environment so far, and I suspect the boss will let you keep the bonus anyway.


Definitely not.

In fact, if you leave your company today and they give a bonus after 3-4 months for this year, you are eligible to get it whenever they pay out.

It is reward for your hard work.

  • According to my employee handbook, I'm eligible for a bonus if I'm working there when the bonus is delivered. The employee has the right to be paid wages or salary, since they're part of whatever agreement, but generally not for a bonus. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 19:25
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    Most employers do not have guaranteed bonuses and would certainly not pay out months after an employee had quit. Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 23:09
  • is it? didnt know that. In some of the previous companies I worked, they gave out bonuses even after I quit for the time I spent there. Ex: I quit a company in June 2015 and in 2016, I got a pro-rated bonus amount for the 6 months I worked there in 2015. (Not a huge amount but something)
    – Omi
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 4:57
  • Almost all employees have some sort of guaranteed (variable) bonus. It's just a normal everyday part of "your payment".
    – Fattie
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 14:41

A bonus is given when the value of your work for the company, has been greater than the value of your compensation by the company, during the period of the work. This means that the company deemed that it owed you money/under-compensated your work. Your boss expected to get X work/quality out of you for an assignment and thus valued your contribution to the project as Z$ (your salary). You did X+Y, the bonus is the unaccounted Y converted to $.

The fact that your boss/company is likable, is part of the benefits of working for them, and is factored in your salary, and your acceptance of the position (if they were horrible, you would either ask for more or not work there).

If you feel bad that they are paying you out of their own money, and you are not providing enough return of investment, think of two things:

  1. You already provided more value than they expected
  2. This is the cost of doing business or realizing/implementing ideas. On average some ventures will generate more value (like added loyalty due to bonuses), some less. It's something accounted for by businesses.

Finally, when you give a bonus to someone, you generally accept the risk that they will leave the next day, and cannot expect to get that money back if they do. As a result, you only hand them that bonus, if that risk is acceptable, meaning that this amount of money is not too significant to the company (it can be risked without going under).

This money is yours, and you cannot "return" it. If you want, you can gift it to them.

  • Thanks mate. I consulted with a family member and they said pretty much this. It's my first professional role so there's still a lot I'm unfamiliar with like bonuses :P
    – MikamiHero
    Commented Dec 19, 2018 at 2:50

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