Normally, our company (in the US) announces pay raises in January. Last year, however, most of the people in my company did not receive a pay raise.

I'm an engineer, and even before this, I was petitioning for higher pay, based on my experience, knowledge, etc. The company agreed, and I was one of a few that did receive a pay raise that year.

However, I wasn't told about it until May. My manager sat down with me, and gave me a copy of the payroll change notification that was going to HR. This paper was signed by the CEO and my manager (signatures dated in May), and the effective date of the increase was a date in February.

I wanted to celebrate, and got permission from my wife to buy an expensive hobby item, which worked out to approximately the amount of back pay I was expecting on my next pay check (signed by the CEO!).

However, when I got my check, there was very little back pay (only a couple weeks worth). I brought this up to my boss, who promised to look into it. He admitted that it was a mistake, and that the forms were dated when the normal pay raises were supposed to be announced and he forgot to change it. When I pushed back, he said something along the lines of "If you want the money, I can pay it out of my pocket, it's my fault and not the company's."

Today, I asked HR for a copy of the pay raise notification (I have a copy somewhere at home). When HR pulled out the form, there were a couple other versions stapled to it - these were corrected forms that had an effective date of just a couple weeks prior. I have never seen these forms until today.

Of course, I'm not asking strangers on the internet legal advice ... I'm trying to get a feel on whether I should press this issue with my company or not.

  • If you down vote, I would appreciate a reason why. It appears I'm on topic according to the help center.
    – Steve
    Aug 15, 2017 at 14:24
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    Is my company legally obligated to pay me this money You're not going to get that answer here which is probably why you were downvoted (and probably will be some more). This is not something a typical HR specialist or generalist could answer. It's not about navigating the workplace it's about "is my employer breaking the law". Get a lawyer. I'll add however that people are allowed to make a mistake. Nobody broke a contract. He filled out the paperwork wrong. If he put an extra zero on that paper, would you expect that too? They made a mistake and they corrected. Poo happens.
    – Chris E
    Aug 15, 2017 at 14:39
  • IMO, you wont get it without a lawyer. Are they legally obligated? If you have a signed piece of paper showing the back-date I would say yes, but that only matters if you are willing to seek legal council and fight for it. Aug 15, 2017 at 14:45
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    Also, it needs to be pointed out that downvotes aren't necessarily about whether or not a question is on topic. That's whether it gets put on hold/closed or not. Downvotes, while nice to be explained, are typically just one person's opinion of the question in general or the answer, as the case may be.
    – Chris E
    Aug 15, 2017 at 14:45
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    @Steve That's an ideal. Practice is difference. For instance, I got a downvote on this one yesterday, 3 days after I posted it and no explanation. I know someone who gets a downvote on everything answer and probably has someone who just doesn't like him. It is what it is.
    – Chris E
    Aug 15, 2017 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


I am not a lawyer, but you should research the term "reasonable reliance"

n. particularly in contracts, what a prudent person would believe and act upon if told something by another. Typically, a person is promised a profit or other benefit, and in reliance takes steps in reliance on the promise, only to find the statements or promises were not true or were exaggerated. The one who relied can recover damages for the costs of his/her actions or demand performance if the reliance was "reasonable." If the promisor says he "owned the Brooklyn Bridge," reliance on that statement is not reasonable. In a complaint the language would read something like: "in reasonable reliance on defendant's statement (or promise), plaintiff did the following…."

An attorney could tell you if you have a case. But the other thing to consider is how much it'd cost to get whatever money is outstanding. Hopefully you don't have to take it that far. I'd say a strongly worded letter from an attorney to your employer might do the trick, but please tread lightly with that approach.


If I'm understanding the situation correctly the original set of documents you saw gave the February date and the documents HR have show the later (May-ish) effective date? And that your boss is suggesting that the original set are the incorrect ones?

Assuming that's correct then you are probably going to have to take that one on the chin, yes the incorrect date and the fact that it led you to make a purchase you wouldn't otherwise have made is unfortunate but I think you going to struggle to get them to adhere to the "incorrect" date. IANL and this in no way constitutes legal advice so I can't tell you if a signed document like that carries a legal obligation on them to pay you that amount from the stated date but even if it does it sounds as if they aren't about to just cough up to it and the existence of the "corrected" forms with HR muddies the waters somewhat and it could very well be expensive, time-consuming and stressful to pursue that legally. Not to mention of course the fact that it would almost certainly be detrimental to your career prospects at this employer, and while it might not be "right" or "fair" the fact remains that you have to pick your battles and if you are otherwise happy working there it is probably best not to make a big stand over this. If you don't think you can continue there after this then by all means lawyer-up and fight them tooth and nail but be aware that you aren't just burning that bridge you're cluster-bombing it into the middle of next week!

What I would do is talk to your manager, explain that you were upset by what happened but that you understand that mistakes happen. I'd thank them for their kind offer to pay out of their own pocket (assuming it was a genuine-sounding offer as opposed to an exasperated comment) but that you can't expect them to do that. Hopefully at this point in the conversation your manager will be feeling grateful that you aren't going to make this a problem and you can suggest some ways they can make it up to you, perhaps an increased bonus that year some extra PTO or whatever.

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