I'm working in Europe for a big multinational company. I was promoted last year, with an increase on my base salary and bonus.

I recently received my bonus for last year. However my company just told me they made a mistake with the calculation, as they paid me my new bonus instead of a pro-rata based on the number of months I worked respectively on my previous and new position. It resulted in what they say is a higher bonus than what they intended to pay.

Now I am not aware of any internal document that details the bonus calculation or what happens to the bonus in case of a mid-year promotion, so I'm a bit puzzled by the issue and unsure if the mistake is legitimate or some a posteriori optimization attempt. Can they take my bonus back, or at least in part?

Edit: my contract does not define any kind of bonus structure.

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    "Can they take my bonus back" sounds like a legal question better suited to law.stackexchange.com – godlygeek Apr 10 '19 at 23:20
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    So are we talking an extra zero on the end or more like an extra 3% over 4 months? – AffableAmbler Apr 11 '19 at 3:18

Your contract defines bonus structure. You should consult your signed contract, and ask for clarification. Email something like this before meeting with your manager:

Hey, I see. Of course, there is no problem, but could you please help me navigate the contract to see where is bonus structure is outlined? I just wanna be sure.

On this website there is a general answer to "I got overpaid can I keep the money" (example):

These are not your money, return them or face legal action from the employer or at least very bad relationship with your current or ex-employer

In some situation you also might bring up the fact that extra money that you didn't earn change your tax position.

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    Thanks! I was unable to find a question tagged overpaid relevant to the bonus, so I don't believe that's a duplicate. I think questions related to undue salary received after resignation are one thing, but bonus may be another, since it's tied to performance and not that well defined. Especially since my contract actually does not define bonus structure.. – Zack4 Apr 10 '19 at 23:59
  • @Zack4 yeah i dont think that's a dupe, but that's the general advice. You should edit your Q to add "my contract actually does not define bonus structure". Then collect any hard evidence (emails) of bonus discussion to use as starting point. – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Apr 11 '19 at 0:00
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    @Zack4 I would definitely do what this answer says but be more tough about it. My email would be more like: *Hello. In the first instance please direct me to the exact contract paragraph which deals with this issue. After I review this with legal, we can discuss it further." Further emails would be like this: "At the moment you're asking me in a completely ad-hoc manner to 'send you money'. Please provide the total legal theory and accounting details to outline what this issue is about." Never just 'send money" to people when they ask. – Fattie Apr 11 '19 at 11:44

If your company has rules how to calculate your bonus, and if they calculated it wrong according to these rules, they can normally ask for the money back. An exception would be if you are severely disadvantaged by that mistake.

Let's say you should have received €1,800 bonus but received €1,900 and are asked to pay back €100, that would be no problem.

But if you had been paid €3,500 for the last ten years and they now tell you that should have been paid only €350, the company would have a hard time even if the €350 were correct, because you probably rejected other job offers because of that huge bonus, and generally relied on getting that kind of bonus.

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As you have posted this in the workplace exchange instead of the legal, I am assuming you want an idea of what we have experienced vs what the law allows.

If you are looking for a more legal approach, you should probably look in the law exchange instead.

I have had a similar experience, in which I was promoted and had my pay increased just before the bonus payments were decided. On my case, I was being promoted in March, the bonus payments would have been dependent on performance for the previous year, and the decision about the bonus was to come 3 days before my official new position.

The bonus was 5% of my annual salary and it happened that it was my NEW salary.

When I brought this up (2 weeks later as I was on holiday), management told me to just keep it as it is, however, I have also received notifications of overpayments on overtime or bonus before, and was told this would be deducted from my wages (after meeting about this and planning on what would be the least desruptive method).

In one case of around 400 of overpayment from the company, I offered to work overtime to cover the amount, and we calculated the amount of hours I had to work and this were submitted to HR when finished, to ensure that I would not be worse off financially because of this.

It all depends on the company, the law in your country and yourself.

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