"Start the New Job Right Away! But What About the Bonus Owed Me?" - 12/28/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column
It's the end of the year. I can't wait until 2021 is over. Between the pandemic, stress at work and at home... Let me just say, what a year! Just before Thanksgiving I started getting calls from competitors and recruiters. They seemed to come out of nowhere but everyone was looking to hire. I was happy with my job so I figured that the best time to look was when I didn't need a job, much to my surprise, I discovered that the grass can be greener at another company. In other words, I've said yes to an offer and now that company wants me to start as soon as possible. Here's my dilemma: I'm in outside sales and I have a lot of money coming to me at the end of January, additionally, I receive a discretionary bonus and this year I'm quite sure I'll be getting that money as well. My current employer pays that money at the end of January or sometimes the middle of February - it's not written in stone. Various things affect this payment such as charge backs or discounts we've been given. It takes a while to calculate, combined with less people working in accounting in my company. You get the idea, I'm afraid to leave without the money in my hand. I don't want to jeopardize the current offer, what should I do?
I know sometimes people are concerned that if they leave one job for a competitor, (I do not have a non-compete), that they won't be paid the commission or the money owed. But I really don't feel that that is the case where I work. I work for a big company, they have a lot of integrity, I believe that they'll own up to their obligation to me. Yet, that little voice in my head is telling me 'do not quit' until I have my commission in hand. Do you have any advice for me?
Leaving Money On The Table
This is a textbook situation with starting a job. It's often more important at the end of a calendar or fiscal year, because companies extend additional bonuses beyond the commissions you're owed. It's not unusual for a company to say that you need to be employed by that company at the time the commissions are owed in order to receive them. That you need to understand, if it's part of an employment agreement you currently have or if it were stated in some document you signed when you began your job. For instance, was it part of your offer letter?
For this answer, I'm going with the assumption you are correct and that you have no such agreement with your company & that you feel confident you will be paid the money you are due, whether or not you are employed there. I need to further divide my answer to your question into two categories for the contract furniture industry: the answer is slightly different if you are working for a furniture dealer vs. a furniture manufacturer.
Let's face it, dealers tend to get more upset and play more games with commissions than manufacturers. So if you're at a furniture dealer and going to another furniture dealer, my advice is to collect your dough before you go. If you're at a manufacturer, chances are you're going to get the money whether you're going to a competitor or not. But, as the old saying goes; "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush!" When you quit a job you are also firing your boss, some bosses take it very personally and can make it difficult & find excuses to stall commissions or even legitimate expenses you are owed for money you put out for business expenses, and the arbitrary discretionary bonus is going to be off the table either way, it's just logical. That same little voice you already described in your head probably has already told you whether you can trust your company to pay you or not. Therefore, go with your instinct when it comes to deciding when you resign.
Here's something else to consider: in today's hot job market, there is more than a 50% chance you're going to get a counter offer anyway. There was a time when we told candidates never to accept counter offers, but that doesn't apply today. Sometimes a counter offer is a legitimate solution to keeping a job you already like but just making it better. Last but not least, the third option for the answer to this question is to line up all of your paperwork on the money that you're owed in the first quarter of 2022 from your current employer. In other words, do a thorough check of all the money you're owed for commission, expenses and any discretionary bonuses you might be receiving. Sit down with the new company that's offered you a job, and take them through this worksheet and simply explain that if they want you to start immediately, they'll need to pay you that money up front in the form of a sign on bonus because you can't afford to leave that money on the table. A savvy employer will pay that money to get you to start as soon as possible, to avoid a counter offer. It's good for them and good for you. And, if the new company doesn't want to pay up, maybe the grass isn't greener after all.