Reader Dilemma: Can I Take My Bonus and Quit the Next Day?

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Friends, countryladies, commenters and lurkers on The Billfold, lend me your tab. I have an psuedo-ethical dilemma, and I need your advice.

Okay, here’s the situation: For almost all of 2014, I have been working for a small business in an average-paying job that I usually tolerate, but frequently loathe. The culture here is uncomfortable. My supervisor is awkward at best, but usually he’s manipulative, controlling, and rude. I have suffered countless indignities under the direction of this person. Both the business and my job responsibilities are much different than what he described to me in the interview. I first dreamed of quitting during my second week on the job and almost walked out several times. When I started the job, my fucks-given meter hovered in the 75 percent range. Now it is at negative infinity and continues to plunge.

But thankfully, yesterday, I received and accepted a job offer. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more thrilled. I’m taking about a 20 percent pay cut, but it is my dream job in my dream field. There’s flexibility, room for growth, and a supportive staff. My current job may have been my worst career decision and this new job is my best one. I’m starting in early January.

And this is where things get tricky. Although my current job is otherwise a nightmare, part of my compensation includes a significant Christmas bonus. This year, I’ll probably get at least a few thousand dollars scheduled to be awarded on the last business day before my new job starts, my last day with the company. The bonus is a reward for my good work in 2014, and despite my disdain for this business and my position, I have earned it. I deserve to receive this part of my compensation package. Also, since I’m taking a pay cut for this new job, I need it. Unfortunately, if my supervisor knows that I won’t be around for 2015, he probably won’t give me my 2014 bonus.

So I’m in a bit of a bind. I can give up about a month’s worth of pay to do the courteous thing and give notice before I bid adieu forever, or I can take my bonus and leave on the spot. The former would be the “right” thing to do, but for a company that wouldn’t do the “right” thing for me by giving me my bonus. It would be the choice that is most loyal to the business, but least loyal to myself. On the other hand, I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable burning bridges. In general, I believe giving two weeks notice is important, both for the business and to maintain good relationships with the people you’re working for.

My problem brings up a lot of broader questions for me, too. Companies have little obligation to do right by their workers if they’re not turning a profit from it; is it the same true of the people employed by those companies? Is “give two weeks’ notice” just an outdated idea designed to serve businesses and screw over employees, kind of like the stigma behind sharing one’s salary? After all, when my company fires people, they don’t give any notice or a severance package. I’m interested in readers’ thoughts on my quandary and on general employee/employer courtesies too.

— Anonymous

Mike’s answer: If your bonus is written into your contract, your employer is legally obligated to give it to you regardless of how you’re deciding to leave. If there’s no contract, something you can consider doing is seeing if your new employer is amenable to moving your start date a little later to allow you to put in notice after you receive your bonus. You’ve already answered your own question about whether giving two weeks’ notice is outdated; not only does it help maintain good relationships, but if you’re working on a team, it gives you time to wrap things up with your colleagues. It also shows future employers that you won’t suddenly abandon them. But giving two weeks’ is a professional courtesy, and you don’t have to do it if your employer hasn’t treated you like a professional. Here’s Lindsay Olson in U.S. News’s career column:

If you know your boss has always fired every employee who ever put in his resignation, you might take your chances and quit just a few days before you’re due at the new company to keep the cash flow steadier.

If you feel you have been harassed or verbally abused, there’s no benefit to staying. If you’ve done your best to rectify the situation, you’re probably not too worried about getting a reference from this job anyway. Take your sanity and go. Likewise, if your current job has caused undue stress, ask yourself what the benefits to your health are, if any, in staying. Likely none.

Readers, what do you think?

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