I am a sales consultant at an auto dealer, and the management regularly hosts special contests and incentives for sales consultants to help increase sales. Recently upon arriving to work I was told by our sales manager that all sales consultants that sold a vehicle that day would be allowed to participate in a March Madness incentive. Upon selling a vehicle I was allowed to pick a team from a list of teams playing in the NCAA playoffs. I was then told that the person who selected the team that won the March Madness championship would win a jackpot of $5000. The team I selected won the championship and I waited for my bonus check to be drafted. I never heard anything back from my sales manager regarding the check so I asked him for an update. I was then told that he couldn't find the paper with each sales persons picks on it, and that the management may not honor the incentive because not that many sales consultants were able to participate since they did not sale any cars. We were never told that if participation or sales were low the incentive would be void. It appears that they no longer want to honor their word and issue payment. Can they legally refuse to honor the incentive?
Tragically, they can. Unless the rules for the incentive specified the prizes and promised that all prizes would be awarded, they can weasel out of it. Although you participated in the incentive program, that alone did not form a contract with the company because what you did to participate was nothing more than you were ordinarily required to do - sell a car - as part of your job. But they've done a lot of damage to their goodwill toward their employees. From now on you're less likely to trust them to do anything they say they'll do.
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To answer your question, your employer might be able to legally refuse to honor the incentive, but just as likely, they might not be able to weasel out of paying you. The incentive award was a form of contract (which can exist even if you are an at-will employee), and you performed all that was required of you. Further, the condition precedent, that other salespeople had to make enough sales, was not disclosed until after the fact. So, it could be deemed to be a nondiscretionary bonus. And it was tied to work performance. At the same time, it does look a bit like gambling, so its possible that they could argue that as a contract, the bonus would be illegal, but as a discretionary bonus, its not.
In other words, it could go either way, though as I think about it, you're probably more in the right. If you want to pursue the matter, small claims is probably your best bet, though suing your employer is probably not ideal.
That is nonsense. It is a tricky legal issue, however. Weather the dealership is correct on the law or not, they should be too embarrassed fight it.
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