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I work for a UK building materials manufacturer. Whilst sales were slower than normal over the last 12 months (for obvious reasons) and we didn't get our regular annual bonus, we are getting a small "thank you for working all of Covid" bonus.

The letter from HR states "Bonus to be paid on pay day (1st of the month). If the colleague leaves before the payment date, they will not receive the thank you".

So, if I were to resign on the 1st of July, would the company have any way to force me to return the bonus amount, or could they ask for me to voluntarily return it? It's a thank you for the last 12 months, but I can imagine them not being impressed with me taking the payment and leaving.

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  • "Bonus to be paid on pay day (1st of the month). If the colleague leaves before the payment date, they will not receive the thank you" If your last day is the first of the month then you are entitled to receiving it. It's a thank you for work performed not a sign-on bonus with contingencies. – MonkeyZeus Jun 7 at 19:36
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This really depends on your contract, or rather the terms of the bonus.

In the UK, bonuses are either contractual or discretionary. Some employers even require you to stay in the company for a certain period after the bonus is paid.

In the letter from HR it states "Bonus to be paid on pay day (1st of the month). If the colleague leaves before the payment date, they will not receive the thank you".

This is open to interpretation. If this is all you have, then the bonus is discretionary. The employer would have final say on whether you qualify for the bonus or not.

So, if I were to resign on the 1st of July would the company have any way to force me to return the bonus amount, or could they ask for me to voluntarily return it?

Until the bonus has cleared payment, there is a possibility your employer wont pay it. Once cleared, the employer can request it back if they claim you didn't meet the terms of the bonus.

Discretionary bonuses have to be in good faith, so they would have to have a very good and clear reason to reclaim it. Resigning on the day it is paid isn't good enough reason, unless doing so specifically breaks the terms of the bonus.

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They can ask.

You just say no.

But as a practical point: If you are planning to quit around that time, wait until they’ve actually paid it into your account before giving your notice.

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    Agree 100%. A lawyer may attempt to strong arm you into paying it back, but a simple and repeated no will make them go away. – Pete B. Jun 7 at 11:55
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Unless there's been a mistake in the payment of the bonus (wrong amount or wrong recipient, for example), then no, your company can't force you to return it. They can ask, of course, but then you could tell them "no" and end the discussion there.

As you said, a bonus is a reward for past work, not an advance for future work. If you received it, you earned it, and you get to keep it.

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So, if I were to resign on the 1st of July would the company have any way to force me to return the bonus amount, or could they ask for me to voluntarily return it? It's a thank you for the last 12 months, but I can imagine them not being impressed with me taking the payment and leaving.

To be sure that you will get the bonus make sure it hits the bank account before turning in your notice. If you don't have direct deposit verify the value of the check before turning in your notice.

Giving notice before receiving the bonus puts you in limbo. They might still pay it, but they might not.

If they want to be able to pull back the bonus after they paid it, they would probably have to give you paperwork showing that there were conditions that had to be met such as staying to the end of the year. The paperwork would spell out how you would repay it, such as being taken out of the last check. You would have to agree to those terms in order to get the payment.

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  • You don't leave when you give notice. If you give one month notice today, you'll leave in one month. – gnasher729 Jun 7 at 12:55
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    gnasher729 makes a good point, but I have a feeling that the management would stop it if payroll hasn't yet been submitted. – SKing Jun 7 at 14:28
  • Payment of wages by cheque is virtually obsolete in the UK (though it is still a legal option). The UK doesn't have the same fragmented retail banking system as the USA (the USA has more than ten times as many banks as the UK) and many of the smaller UK banks have no bricks-and-mortar branches at all. – alephzero Jun 7 at 22:16
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    They could still technically pull back the bonus from the account if paid less than X days ago, although I find unlikely they would do that for this. Much likely they tried to discount it from whatever final pay you would be entitled to. – Ángel Jun 7 at 22:50
  • I had a quick check: In the UK, I don't think that the company can take any money back from your account. So they can ask you politely to return it, and if you don't, take you to court. Same if the company accidentally overpays you. If you remain with the company, they can deduct it from your next salary, but not take it out of your account. If the bonus isn't enough that either side would want to go to court about it, whoever has it, keeps it. – gnasher729 Jun 8 at 17:33

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