Background: I am currently working on a long-term project. This project has taken many people away from their current full-time roles and there is some traveling involved. Each of us signed a letter that promises a project bonus within a range depending on how the project ends (ie on time, on budget, quality, etc). The maximum bonus is equal to a large portion of a year's salary, and we are hopeful to get it. The minimum bonus is a small fraction of a year's salary. The work week was outlined for those who would be traveling, giving monday morning and thursday evening as travel time. But no other outlines for the working day/week were communicated, no details on hours or Overtime pay. At times on the project, the workload has been immensely larger than our previous roles. Often people have had to work 18 hour days, weekends, and through their lunches.

Here in Ontario (as with my previous role) employers are legally required to pay the standard pay-rate up to 44 hours (per working week). When hours exceed 44, Overtime is to be provided at 1.5 times the standard pay-rate. Given the nature of my role on project, there is nothing that negates my right to overtime pay. Unfortunately, there are people who I am working alongside that do not fall under the ontario OT guidelines and will not be eligible to receive it.

Initially we had some days where I could leave early, so when I first started to work longer hours was writing it off as give-and-take. However things rev'd up more than I was expecting; take-and-take.

I've talked to many coworkers/managers about compensation for overtime hours, and the resounding answer is "project bonus". This seems to be how everyone has been validating the extra work. The project cultural belief is if we work extra hours that we are more likely to get the Maximum bonus, and the maximum bonus would be more than the OT pay we could earn, ergo the bonus is the compensation. I was doing some math and if I had been paid overtime hours I would have earned enough to put me in the middle of the bonus range, and would already have been paid.

I want to be compensated for my time, and I want to get the bonus for when the project is complete. I have wanted to talk with my project manager on this, but every scenario I imagine casts me in bad light.

Questions: Is a 'project bonus' reasonable compensation for Overtime? Do I have a right to ask for overtime pay without it affecting my bonus after the project is done? Assuming that no one is currently getting overtime pay, what strategies can I use to broach this topic with my project lead?

Concerns: I don't want to come across a greedy, expressing my rights when people I'm working alongside don't have those same rights. If I do get compensated for overtime hours, that pay will be coming out of the project budget and may affect how large the final bonus is for the whole team. If word gets out to everyone who is entitled to Overtime, those who are not entitled to overtime pay may be left with only the minimum bonus.



  • 2
    This question really comes down to what is stated in your contract and legal issues, neither of which we can answer here.
    – David K
    May 17, 2016 at 16:01
  • 1
    @RStar Has your company built a good reputation among employees for following through with these bonuses? OT can't be arbitrarily taken away whereas a bonus can be. Definitely keep track of your working hours.
    – Myles
    May 17, 2016 at 17:50
  • 4
    If you are legally eligible for overtime pay, then you most likely cannot "opt out" for a few months without other changes to your compensation or role. Canadian legislation seems rife with exceptions but the salient point seems to be: "However, an employer and an employee cannot agree that the employee will give up his or her right to overtime pay under the ESA." If we assume that this applies to you, you cannot choose to swap a bonus for your OT pay and that OT pay needs to be paid out. But you need to talk to an employment lawyer or someone with established expertise here.
    – Lilienthal
    May 17, 2016 at 17:53
  • 2
    Frankly, your company should have been much clearer on the conditions for that bonus as the employees who qualify for OT probably should not have been given the impression that they'd be eligible. It sounds more like a way to motivate what the US would call exempt employees to go above and beyond for this project. The way management handled this sounds fishy as all hell and I wouldn't be surprised if they end up paying out minimal bonuses and causing a mass exodus, but that's only based on my interpretation of your explanation so I could be off-base.
    – Lilienthal
    May 17, 2016 at 17:55
  • 1
    Anyway, I've voted to close this as off-topic as you're crossing into legal territory with your questions. Consider narrowing your focus to something people without experience in Canadian employment law can answer. Consider joining The Workplace Chat because I'm quite curious about the details of this and I'd rather not start a 4th comment. :) /// Clarification: the quoted text in my first comment was from the article you linked.
    – Lilienthal
    May 17, 2016 at 17:56

2 Answers 2


The very fine point you're missing here is that the project bonus has been promised with conditions, whereas bona fide overtime hours must be paid out unconditionally due to legislation. The company is using the proposed bonus as a golden carrot. No matter how many hours you put in, the maximum bonus stays the same.

WHY on earth would any thinking person believe that such an arrangement is really an incentive? In fact, it is not.

This is worth talking to an attorney about.

  • 1
    Especially since it sounds like even the maximum bonus would be significantly less than the overtime pay people are not being paid. May 18, 2016 at 1:29
  • @Carson63000 Exactly!!!
    – Xavier J
    May 18, 2016 at 3:47

Is a 'project bonus' legal/reasonable compensation for Overtime?

We can't answer the legal part, for that you should talk to an employment lawyer in your area.

It sounds like your company is saying "This project is really important to us, so we will pay you a bonus to deliver it quickly and with high quality, understanding that you will all have to go above and beyond to accomplish that goal".

If you get overtime and the bonus, I think that will come across as double-dipping. Since not all employees have that option available, your double-dipping will adversely affect those that don't. This is very likely to come across as greedy and your fellow employees will probably not like you for it. Your project manager will/should be concerned about how this situation will impact the whole team, not just you.

If you pursue this legally, be prepared for negative repercussions within the team.

  • And the amount of over-time allowed would be reviewed very closely.
    – user8365
    May 17, 2016 at 16:58
  • I don't think it is "double-dipping" or "greedy" if you request the compensation guaranteed by your contrace (overtime pay). And if "no other outlines for the working day/week were communicated", as OP writes, the assumption would be that the rules from the employment contract and employee handbook apply.
    – sleske
    May 18, 2016 at 10:24
  • @sleske , I'm not saying OP is double-dipping, but to all the people who don't have the opportunity, I think that will be their perspective
    – cdkMoose
    May 18, 2016 at 11:53
  • I don't think it is double-dipping or greedy. Just because someone is getting paid overtime doesn't mean they'll actually work it. The bonus gives them the additional incentive to work the overtime. For those who aren't eligible for overtime, it is likely that is because they are being paid a higher salary already and they'll also get a higher bonus if the bonus is based on percent salary. So I wouldn't feel pity for them.
    – Dunk
    May 18, 2016 at 18:57

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