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Company fires worker and takes back his signing bonus

If the signing bonus an employee received was

If the signing bonus an employee received was part of a deferred compensation plan, it is legal for the company to pull back the bonus if he leaves before he is vested. Credit: Alamy / Hero Images Inc.

DEAR CARRIE: My son was hired at a private lab, and as part of his hiring bonus he received 5,000 shares of company stock. A year and a half later he was fired and the shares were taken back. Is that legal? -- Illegal Take-Back?

DEAR ILLEGAL: That depends on the circumstances, an employment attorney said.

"If the shares were given as a hiring bonus, with no strings attached, then it would be against the law for the lab to take them back," said Richard Kass, a partner at Bond, Schoeneck & King in Manhattan. "But I suspect that this was part of a deferred compensation plan that included a vesting schedule.  That would mean that the employee does not have a right to keep the shares unless he remains employed for a set amount of time, typically three years."

So your son should take another look at the agreement he signed to see what he is entitled to, if anything.

DEAR CARRIE: About five months ago I left a company where I had worked for about 18 years. I left to take a similar position with a more stable company. I left my former company because it was in a death spiral. Its stock was delisted, and it went from more than 120 employees in several sites worldwide to maybe 30 employees in two offices. And it was behind in payments to suppliers. The breaking point for me was when the company fell weeks behind in paying employees. I left with the company owing me five weeks of pay and four weeks of unused vacation time -- nine weeks of pay, essentially. So far the company has paid me for all but one of those weeks. I feel I am now added to the list of people who will never see any more money. Is it legal for companies to be late with paychecks? -- No Check in Mail

DEAR NO CHECK: Absolutely not. Most employees in New York State have to be paid at least twice a month. As for employees who leave, state law says that "employees whose employment has ended are entitled to be paid no later than the payday on which their next pay would have been due had they still been employed." 

So I would call the New York State Labor Department right away at 516-794-8195 or 212-775-3880. 

DEAR READERS: Nov. 6. is Election Day, and state laws say that workers who are registered to vote must have "sufficient time" outside of their working hours to get to the polls. Sufficent time is defined as four consecutive hours between the opening of the polls and the beginning of a worker's shift or four consecutive hours between the end of a worker's shift and the closing of the polls. If workers don't have enough time to vote before or after work, their employers have to make up the difference with up to a maximum of two extra paid hours off. If employees require the extra time, they have to notify their employers at least two working days before the election. And employers can designate whether the time is taken before or after work. One law firm, Rivkin Radler in Uniondale, plans to grant its employees an hour of paid time off before or after work on Election Day, whether they need that extra time or not to cast their vote.       

"It’s the firm's way of saying we really want everyone to participate, and we want to do everything we can do to encourage that," said Evan Krinick, the firm's managing partner. 

Go to for more on New York's frequency-of-pay laws. 

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