Every year without fail we get at least one call from someone who was fired in the weeks before Christmas. What worse time is there to lose a job? Why does it happen? For some companies it looks like a great way to avoid paying Christmas bonuses. Of course the first question we get is “Can I get my Christmas bonus?”
Under the Illinois Wage Payment Collection Act (and the laws of certain other states), any compensation owed as a matter of tenure is still owed to you even if you are fired. The classic example is vacation time. If you earned the vacation, you do not lose it simply because your employer fired you, your employer will simply have to pay you the equivalent in dollars. The key question then is whether your Christmas bonus is part of expected compensation or whether it is discretionary.
If your company gives discretionary bonuses — bonuses that it may choose to give or may chose not to give — then you have no right to it. On the other hand, if it is part of compensation, then like earned vacation it must be paid.
The great irony for companies who terminate employees to avoid paying Christmas bonuses is that if the bonus was discretionary, the company did not have to terminate the employee to avoid paying it in the first instance. Employment is generally at will and the company could choose not to pay the bonus and wait until after the holidays to fire the employee. On the other hand, if the bonus is earned, then the company will have to pay it anyway. The message for companies is “Don’t fire people at the holidays. It isn’t necessary and it isn’t good for morale.”
But wage payment collection acts are not limited to the holidays. Anytime an employee is fired, he should consider whether the company has paid him everything he is owed. And as always, if you believe that you were wrongfully terminated, that you were terminated because of your sex, age, or disability or because you were out for a period of time to handle a serious medical condition, you should always call an employment lawyer — not just before Christmas. To discuss your particular situation contact the employment attorneys at Maduff & Maduff today.