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Bonus disputes: Getting what you deserve

You wait for a bonus every year right around Christmas. Everyone in the company gets one, but no one really talks about how much the bonus is. It's supposed to be standard based on the number of years you've been with the company.

You and a coworker have been there together since day 1. Since you're friendly with one another, you chatted about your bonuses. You have the same jobs, but you got less than a coworker despite working more hours and taking on more responsibility throughout the year. What happened? Should you just be happy with what you have?

It depends on the situation. If you're told by your employer that everyone categorized as "IT workers" or "second-year workers" are to get the same amount, then you may want to address it in a professional way. Here's how.

1. Talk to your boss

There is a potential that there is a catch or statistical fact you're not aware of. For example, you both started on the same day, but if your coworker signed on to work with the company a month earlier before beginning the job, he or she might fall into a different bonus category. Likewise, the accounting department may have made an error and categorized you with the first-year employees instead of second-year, with sales instead of IT or another mistake. It's worth asking for a meeting to politely ask what determined your bonus and how you were classified.

2. Look at the analytics

Perhaps part of the bonus is based on time worked during a specific program or the number of vacation days you took off. Maybe the coworker cashed out vacation time, and the boss included it in the bonus payment. Add up what you should have gotten and see if it's correct. If so, then there likely is something else that affected your coworker's bonus that you're unaware of.

3. Be realistic

If there is a true reason for a lower bonus that is discriminatory or biased, you need to speak up. Basing a bonus on skin color, gender or other factors isn't legal, so finding out if that's the reason is vital. For example, if all your male, white coworkers got $5,000 bonuses but you, an Asian female, received $4,000 despite meeting the same criteria, you may want to question if you're being treated fairly.

These are a few things to consider when you don't think you've gotten a bonus you deserve. A bonus dispute isn't uncommon. Employers should be fair to their employees.

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