Is my case eligible for a Labor Board panel review?
May 5, 2012 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I was eligible for a sizable bonus on February 1, 2012, the one year anniversary date of my start date. The offer letter said I'd get an email listing the criteria on which the bonus would be based by the end of February 2011. I never got the email. Requests for the criteria went unanswered. So have emails and phone calls since November. Is this something I could present to a Labor Relations panel for resolution? I have tons of qualitative and quantitative data on the work I've performed, essentially in a vacuum. Any thoughts would be much appreciated. Thanks.
posted by holdenjordahl to Law & Government (13 answers total)
posted by SMPA at 10:44 AM on May 5, 2012

los angeles.
posted by holdenjordahl at 10:47 AM on May 5, 2012

Are you in a union? Did you actually have a contract, or are you an at-will employee?

(I am sort of tentatively of the opinion that your primary recourse is quitting; CA and US law mostly guarantees stuff like a minimum wage and lunch breaks and such, as well as occupational safety and making sure negotiated union contracts are adhered to.)
posted by SMPA at 11:08 AM on May 5, 2012

nope, no union - at will. i don't know if the offer letter would hold up as a contract.
posted by holdenjordahl at 11:13 AM on May 5, 2012

Actually go down to HR and don't go away until someone talks to you. Phone calls and emails can be ignored, but a person in the office is pretty obvious.
posted by valkyryn at 12:49 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Requests for the criteria went unanswered. So have emails and phone calls since November.

Who have you actually been contacting for these requests -- your supervisor? The HR department? Someone else? Does that someone else have a supervisor you can contact? And if emails and phone calls have gone unanswered for six months, are you able to meet with someone in person for a face-to-face meeting? (Also, do you know if your coworkers have received the bonuses they've been eligible for?)

I, too, have strong doubts that the CA labor board has any jurisdiction over this sort of thing, but it never hurts to call and ask (and if they say no, to ask if there's another entity that you should contact instead).
posted by scody at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2012

Oh, and I see by looking at one of your previous questions that you work at a state university. I don't know exactly which one you work at, but it's my understanding from a number of people in both the Cal State and University of CA systems that budget cuts have taken a big slice out of compensation and bonuses for whole swaths of (non-executive) employees. Don't know if this will apply in your case, and of course you should still be given the appropriate information and a direct answer to your questions, but that may be the context in which this is happening.
posted by scody at 12:56 PM on May 5, 2012

I find it curious that neither emails nor phone calls were answered re: this issue. Is this typical of other communications with your employer? To answer your question--I agree with the preceding posters--this is not covered by any State or federal regulation/law of which I am aware. Depending on the specific wording in your letter of hire it is possible ( note possible not probable) that it might serve as a contract. You would have to seek a lawyer to clarify this and help you decide whether you have a lawsuit under contract law. I am guessing it would depend on the wording of the letter, nature and conditions of bonuses awarded to other employees and your performance/documentation. I am assuming you are might be willing to leave if negotiations with your employer fail and you pursue litigation.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:58 PM on May 5, 2012

A few things to think about:

1. Is any part of the bonus mandatory if you do certain objectively verifiable actions? Like hit a certain sales target, bill a certain number of hours, work a certain number of days, or so on? If the bonus is completely discretionary, it's hard to make a case that your employer has done anything other than be a crappy boss.

2. On the other hand, are there other people besides you who are getting the bonus? If so, you could have some toehold to laying claim to it, or failing that, seeking recourse.

Also seconding Valkyryn's advice to make yourself a nuisance to HR until they address you. Make an actual appointment with them. Get the appointment by showing up at the office until they speak with you.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:47 PM on May 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

How sizable? If enough, hire an attorney to clear this up. I am a public employment lawyer, I am not your lawyer nor is this legal advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:39 PM on May 5, 2012

hi folks. thanks for the responses.
up to $25,00, based on criteria not made available. i'm the only employee.
actually, it's a unique (read: strange configuration). it's a private foundation that has a museum on a state university campus. the state has nothing to do with this. there's no HR department, only the guy. there's no way to above or around him.
i've thought about litigation and i'm thinking about a labor board resolution. i want to have a lawyer to at least look at the offer letter and see if it serves as a contract.
sad thing, this: the museum i created is thriving like mad. i have also amassed 40 testimonial letters that i was going to use for grants. they come from the chancellor's office,various deans, faculty, staff, and students. all attest to how i've turned the place, as founding director, into a viable cultural resource on campus. i;m thinking, if push comes to shove, they might come in handy to show what i've accomplished.
my instincts (and my friends) say just walk away. the thing is, i love the place. of course, any litigation or labor board contact would make all that disappear in a flash.
yeah, i have a feeling that the only recourse is to walk away., karma- or otherwise.
does any of this make any sense???
posted by holdenjordahl at 3:27 PM on May 5, 2012

So it sounds like you were told in an offer letter that you'd be eligible for a 25K bonus based on criteria to be specified later, and the criteria were never specified. The person who would specify them is your boss, and has been unresponsive to you on this.

IANAL and I'm not going to try to give you legal advice. But I'd say two things.

The first thing is, should you stay in your job, and it sounds like your friends are saying no, and you are leaning no. That makes sense to me. If you have such a crappy relationship with your boss that you can't communicate, at all, over something like this, it feels like a bad idea to stay in the role. Sounds like you think you are doing well, but your boss might disagree. If you've got no objective, mutually-agreed-upon performance criteria, you might have very different views on how you're performing. And if you can't talk about this stuff, that's not a good basis for a productive working relationship.

As for suing -- again, I'm not a lawyer, and I don't know if you have any legal recourse. But if it were me, I'd walk away. 25K is not nothing, but you're talking about a very theoretical 25K --- the criteria might have impossible to meet, or you might not have met them. In my experience lawyers representing employees often take half or more of money received due to their efforts: that's therefore only 12.5K you would get, at best, before tax. Add in the hassle and potential damage to your reputation, plus the (likely not small) chance you'd end up with nothing: I would not bother. Especially since you presumably have been seeing the writing on the wall for a while, and therefore have not been counting on having this money.

Sorry. It's a valuable lesson, probably, for next time.
posted by Susan PG at 5:07 PM on May 5, 2012

hi folks.
yup, it's over. didn't get the paycheck today, 5 days late, and calls about it weren't returned.
thanks, Susan PG, it is a valuable lesson.
thanks, folks, for all the insight; i really appreciate it.
posted by holdenjordahl at 7:47 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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