Are terminated employees entitled to their unpaid bonuses?
We have previously written about when employees have been found to be entitled to receive their bonus at the time of termination.
To recap, when an employee is terminated without cause, they are entitled to receive notice or pay in lieu of notice. Wrongful dismissal damages are intended to place the terminated employee in the same financial position they would have been in had such notice been given. When the court is calculating wrongful dismissal damages, it will typically include all of the compensation and benefits that the employee would have earned during the notice period. However, whether a bonus the employee would have received should be included in such an award is a complicated question that depends partly on whether it has become an integral part of the employee’s salary.
Bain v UBS Securities Canada Inc.
In this case, Mr. Bain, a 14-year employee, earned a base salary of $385,000 plus bonus.
Although at the beginning of his employment his bonus was paid by cash, payment changed so that his bonus was paid partly by cash and partly by shares in UBS.
Mr. Bain lost his job when it became redundant. He was paid his entitlements under the Employment Standards Act but was not paid his bonus for 2012 or for the three months that he worked in 2013.
After concluding that Mr. Bain was entitled to receive 18 months’ reasonable notice, the judge turned to the question of whether Mr. Bain should receive his bonus for 2012 and the three months he worked in 2013. The judge decided that the bonus was an integral part of Mr. Bain’s remuneration: he received it, albeit in different amounts, every year; he had always been awarded a bonus in his 14 years of employment and it was a significant component of his income. In fact, Mr. Bain had negotiated a minimum bonus as a term of his employment contract when he decided to join UBS.
The judge noted that UBS had a detailed compensation scheme in place and had the stated goal of transparency and fairness in the granting of bonuses. The fact that the bonus was solely in the discretion of management did not relieve UBS from its obligation to follow a process that was fair and reasonable, using objective criteria applied consistently among employees. The judge also noted that Mr. Bain’s 2012 evaluation contained many “exceeded objectives” assessments, and that his numbers were higher for 2012 than for 2011. The judge looked at evidence from other managers and the bonuses they received, which ranged from $402,300 to over $2 million.
UBS attempted to argue that a new compensation plan was introduced in 2011 that stipulated employees had to be employed with UBS to be paid their bonus. The judge could not conclude that Mr. Bain had accepted this fundamental change to his entitlement to a bonus, or that the new limitations were brought to his attention. The judge concluded that to accept UBS’ argument would mean that Mr. Bain became disentitled to a bonus because of the unilateral actions of UBS, over which Mr. Bain had no control. The judge concluded that Mr. Bain should receive his bonus for 2012, the three months he worked in 2013 and the bonus he would have earned over his 18 month notice period.
Lessons to be learned:
- In some circumstances, an employee may be entitled to the bonus they would have earned had they not been dismissed, which includes the bonus they would have earned during their notice period.
- An employer may limit an employee’s right to receive bonus payments upon termination, in certain circumstances.
- An employer must ensure that this limit is brought to the attention of the employee and forms a part of the employment contract.
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