When I accepted my current job it came with a few strings attached:


Single Web App Project X with deliverables:

  • A
  • B
  • C

And must be completed within three months. If completed, you'll receive a $xx,xxx bonus. (If not, you may no longer be employed here)


At two weeks in.. My employer learned that I also knew how to make mobile apps. These were added to the scope. I raised a flag saying that this would add time/risk.

At 1 month in.. Creative was having trouble keeping up with my development pace, and other dev was having trouble providing his portion of the solution.

At 2 months... Mobile apps completed and delivered. I have a formal sit-down conversation with my boss to outline that we have already met all of the initial project's criteria; everything remaining would be considered "out of scope"

At 2.5 months... 2-6 weeks of additional dev added for items not part of original scope. I again raise a flag to say that this will likely push us past our deadline.

At 3 months... 95% done with web app project; I receive an e-mail:

We have a few more small tweaks we want done with the mobile apps. I'll send those over. Also, we're going to make the bonus contingent on code complete. I expect that to take another month.


My Question:

I have communicated risk, more than delivered on the initial criteria, and have been told that I am going above and beyond and doing outstanding work. However, it's impacting me negatively by:

  • Delaying my bonus
  • Taking away from future work that could be tied to future bonuses

Part of me wants to dig my heels into the ground and halt work until I'm compensated, but that feels a bit childish.

  1. What is the best way to effectively communicate my frustration?
  2. How can I best position myself to prevent this from happening with future projects/bonuses?
  • 13
    nothing childish about holding people to promises, an unfulfilled promise which is replaced by another promise would be worthless to me.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 27, 2016 at 3:52
  • 1
    You are in a corner. If you fight it now it will be hard to get the work done. See the tweaks and give it what you got. If they screw you then look for another job.
    – paparazzo
    Sep 27, 2016 at 5:38
  • 14
    You probably should have already re-negotiated the moment they first changed scope (at the point of adding the mobile apps). Also, you should NEVER let a manager say "I expect this to be done by X". Estimations of work are done by the experts, not the managers.
    – Erik
    Sep 27, 2016 at 5:54
  • 1
    They can give whatever constraints they want; but they cannot reasonably "Expect X to be done by Y". They can "Ask if X can be done by Y", or say "We have a deadline at Y, how much can we deliver", or ask "How quickly can you do X and what do you need to drop to do it?" but they simply do not have enough information to make an informed decision about how much time X will cost to build unless they ask the expert.
    – Erik
    Sep 27, 2016 at 8:48

4 Answers 4


I go hard line when it comes to money, and I don't tolerate any sort of monkey business, I'm only working for money. It hasn't always worked out straight away, but mostly it has. So there is a definite element of risk. On the whole I think it worked out for me in the long run getting out of environments that weren't getting me ahead, although I might have taken a short term loss.

I would put my foot down and want my money now, they can do a bonus for the other work some other time, and I'd make it clear that I'd be out the door if I didn't get it.

At this point you do have a fair bit of leverage, they have deadlines loomimg, you're the man with full grasp of the projects and they'll have a lot of trouble filling your shoes in time. Soon you won't have any leverage and still might not get a bonus.

Whether or not I got the bonus at this point, I'd still be job hunting, because once it get's to that point in negotiations you're going to leave one way or another, even if they pay you, it's a stop gap measure until they can get rid of you. And once the boss/employee relationship hits that sort of strain, you'll never be happy there in the long run.

You may burn a bridge, but not a great loss if the bridge is already on fire at the other end.

  • 4
    +1 Lost my leverage cause I thought the other side would just stick to their word. Wish I had this advice back then. Not a lot of money or time lost, just a lesson learned, so I probably came out ahead anyway.
    – rath
    Sep 27, 2016 at 10:41
  • 14
    +1 I think there are two approaches to bonuses. I have only had jobs where bonuses were relatively small but nice if you happened to get them, and I was happy to do the job for the base pay. If the bonus is a key part of the deal, management playing games with it should be treated as the moral equivalent of management delaying a paycheck. Sep 27, 2016 at 10:52
  • 2
    Solid answer. I think I'll borrow some of your confidence and stand my ground (in a work appropriate/professional fashion). I think I'll start my conversation by playing as if this is an oversight/error, how I believe I have met my contractual obligations (and gone above and beyond, citing my boss and his bosses). Ideally, we clear up the matter, and then have a subsequent conversation about future criteria based bonuses (a post mortem of sorts). This whole process is a new thing here, and I'd like to believe it was more an oversight than calculated play. Sep 28, 2016 at 19:34
  • 1
    @rath I made the same mistake. Was asked not to push because it was a bad time for them. There never was another time. (And a +1 to Patricia Shanahan's point.) Aug 2, 2017 at 6:46

Part of me wants to dig my heels into the ground and halt work until I'm compensated, but that feels a bit childish.

Nothing childish about that. As far as you know, he promised you this bonus based on the original deliverables. The fact that he changed scope multiple times and is now making your (already earned) bonus contingent on yet more deliverables is sleazy at best (it may be legal though unless you had a contract, IANAL).

The problem here is how you approach this, though, since bringing it up directly may make you lose your bonus completly. I would first wait and see how big these changes are, and then see if you can comfortably do them in the remaining time.

You can confront your boss about this (and its reasonable to confront people over unfulfilled promises) but realize that doing so could mean you either:

  • Upset the relationship with your boss permanently
  • You don't get any bonus at all
  • You get fired (Extreme, yes, but in an at-will environment, unreasonable people can do that)
  • You get noted as "Disloyal" to the company and may be next on the chopping block for layoffs

Now all of this is unfair, but thats unfortunately what can happen given an unreasonable boss.

How can I best position myself to prevent this from happening with future projects/bonuses?

Make sure scope changes are thoroughly discussed and make sure to insist that the bonus still be tied to the original scope when informed of them.

  • I feel this is not really reacting to the point where he doesn't HAVE a bonus. Only promises made by a person who has made it perfectly clear they don't mind coming back on them.
    – Erik
    Sep 27, 2016 at 7:41
  • @Erik Thats exactly what I mean. That bonus isn't a thing yet, so making a ruckus about can mean the boss decides just not to pay it. (Not unlikely given this boss has gone back on promises before)
    – Magisch
    Sep 27, 2016 at 7:46
  • The point is that if he doesn't give a ruckus, there is just as good a chance the boss decides just not to pay it, except he'll have put in even more work. It sounds like "Keep quiet and hope for the best" and that's very risky when putting in work for an untrustworthy person.
    – Erik
    Sep 27, 2016 at 7:50
  • @Erik With the additional caveat that working for such a boss, making a ruckus can easily mean that they fire you and fabricate some reason to prevent you from getting unemployment and/or jeopardize the reference. Sadly, the boss is holding more cards here.
    – Magisch
    Sep 27, 2016 at 7:53
  • Don't give him more cards then?
    – Kilisi
    Sep 27, 2016 at 8:41

When the bonus is of a similar magnitude to your salary, the company has effectively made you a contractor. You should start to treat them like a client who wants extra work done for free.

You should start by appealing to their integrity and desire to be seen as honest (and without a lawyer and a contract, that's about all you can do). Show that you've fulfilled your side of the agreement and ask for written agreement that you will be paid within 90 days, or whatever the companies standard terms are.

Now they want another month of work, but at a lower overall rate. That's not how it should work. They should offer another bonus for it, and this time get the contract written down and signed! If they don't like that (and a client-contractor relationship is a hassle) they can pay you on a time-and-materials basis (i.e. raise your basic pay by 1/3rd of the bonus)

At this point you're not threatening or "holding them to ransom", just negotiating a new contract after the previous one has finished.

For the rest of us, where the bonus is small and allocation arbitrary, just ignore it, or work out how many extra hours the last bonus paid for.


Your agreement, though oral, is legally enforceable. If the money's enough of an amount, you might consider other avenues to get him to keep his word. This doesn't sound like a guy to keep working for over the long-term anyhow, but only you know your actual situation. If it were me, and I could walk with three months pay, I'd get an attorney. No use continuing to be lead on with a golden carrot.

  • 5
    How do you know it is legally enforceable? You don't even know where the OP lives.
    – mikeazo
    Sep 27, 2016 at 12:32
  • A valid contract and an enforcable contract are two very different things. Sep 30, 2016 at 0:37
  • If it's a valid contract, the OP probably has pay stubs that point right to a bank account to place a levy on if there's a judgment and the company tries to play hardball afterward -- this is the enforcement part.
    – Xavier J
    Sep 30, 2016 at 0:55

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