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Do I have to return my signing bonus?

PhotonicsPays
Jan 2007

Q. I received a $5,000 signing bonus when I was hired by my company, with the promise that I would stay for one year. Now, six months later, I'm not doing the job I was hired to do and I might have the opportunity to take a new job that will be a good career move for me. But I worry that I'll have to pay back the $5,000. How do signing bonuses usually work? Can I argue that I'm not doing the job I was hired to do, and therefore shouldn't have to pay it back?

A. Without reading your agreement with the company, I suspect you will have to return your signing bonus. Typically, signing bonuses are not job-specific. Rather, they are tied to your tenure at your company or to completion of a particular project. If your agreement states that the signing bonus is contingent on your performing specific tasks, you may have some cause. But if the agreement says the company is offering you a signing bonus for committing to a year, there is very little you can do to keep the bonus.

If you do have to return the signing bonus, try asking your new employer to pay back what you must return to your current employer. It is not unusual for a company to pay the difference of any bonuses a candidate has to give up when accepting an offer. Tell the company that as part of your compensation package you would like them to reimburse you for any costs you incur as a result of accepting their offer of employment.

Remember, everything is negotiable. So if this is a cost you have to absorb as a result of accepting an offer from a new employer, then make it a part of your negotiation discussions.

Good luck.

- Erisa Ojimba, Certified Compensation Professional
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