I Think My Boss is Stealing From Me

If the compensation package isn’t signed, do I wave goodbye to my commission?

Back Article Jul 2, 2015 By Suzanne Lucas

I am a new hire at a Fortune 100 tech company. It’s a sales position, and this is my first job out of college. Just days into the job I landed my first sale — a big one for a $250,000 software contract. I am about to close my second sale, this one for a $100,000 contract. I was excited until I was told that because my compensation package had not yet been signed and finalized, I would not be receiving nearly $5,000 in commission for these deals. I’m angry, and I don’t know what to do to get paid and make sure this doesn’t happen again.

In a dream world, you’d pick up the phone, call the clients and say, “I’m sorry. My boss forced me to lie to you about the service you’d receive. I recommend that you don’t do this and go to our competitor.” Then you’d walk out and into a new job where they treat you like a human.

But this is not the movies, and the reality is that your boss is a jerk. The likelihood of you having a backup job that you can go to immediately is pretty darn slim. And managers who are jerks about things like this are bound to be jerks about other things, so you need to tread lightly. You are probably stuck in this job for at least a little while, so let’s go for your best bet of being treated properly.

It could be illegal.

If you have an offer letter that states a pay and commission structure, removing the commission after you’ve already done the work may violate the law. Offer letters aren’t generally binding, but you do have to notify employees before they do any work that you are lowering their pay.

If your offer letter was clear about those things, take it to your boss and say, “My understanding when I accepted this job was that this had all been sorted out and that I would receive commissions based on this schedule,” and then hand over the offer letter.

Now, there may be some blustering, but this should actually solve the problem. You can also mention that if they don’t offer you the commission based on the offer letter, there may be legal implications.

They can certainly change the commission structure, but not after you’ve done the work. They have to do it before.

It could be legal.

If you accepted the job based on something verbal like, “We’ll work that out later,” then it could be legal for them to deny a commission. That doesn’t make it a good idea, it just might not be against the law. As a word of caution to others, don’t take a job until all of the details are ironed out.

Regardless of the legality, it’s immoral to cheat someone out of his earned commission.

Take it up the chain.

If your boss doesn’t go for the legal argument (or you didn’t have things finalized before starting the job), you need to escalate this issue up the chain. Your boss’s boss would be the first stop on the list. Because this is a very large company, they should have processes in place, and someone should recognize the absurd nature of this problem. Unless you are the only person doing this job (unlikely in a Fortune 100 company), this commission should be the same for other people doing the same job. It should be easy and logical to say, “I sold X, the commission should be Y. What do we need to do to make this happen?”

But if no one cares…

If no one recognizes that it is detrimental to the business to have sales people that aren’t properly compensated, you have a couple options. The first is to not close the second deal until your boss signs off on the commission structure. You may end up losing the deal altogether, but will that make you any worse off than you are now?

Your second option is to hire a lawyer. Lowering your pay by eliminating a commission without prior notification violates the law. A lawyer can give you an official legal opinion of what you are owed based on your offer letter and the laws. But keep in mind that when you pull out the legal guns you’ll probably damage the relationship with your boss and the company.

Your third option is to start looking for a new job, and when you find a new job, leave. Turnover is expensive — more expensive than your $5,000 commission, so they suffer a lot in this scenario. But finding a new job is very difficult, and the fact that you’ve been in this job for such a short time period will work against you.

Your last option is to suck it up and accept that your boss is a jerk. This isn’t a terrible option, actually. You’re out $5,000, but you still have a job, and in a Fortune 100 company there should be plenty of chances to move to a new position. Most large companies will require you to stay in a position for 12 or 18 months before transferring out. Since you’re already showing how successful you can be, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a manager that wants you sooner and will respect your work.

No matter what you decide, take the moral high ground here and appreciate the advantage of knowing from the start that your boss can’t be trusted. From now on, document everything. If you agree to anything verbally, make sure you confirm via email. 


Caitriona (not verified)July 3, 2015 - 6:10am

This is appalling and I'm sorry this happened to you! Join the club. I did research consultancy work through the commercial arm of my university with a signed contract. The $11,000 went into a "research consultancy account" in my name. It was administered by the university but was clearly (and contractually) earmarked for my use for my research. The account was in my name and had a unique account number.

My line manager secretly transferred the money into her account. Because it was a "university ADMINISTERED" account, this was used to justify an internal transfer my research funds to someone else's "university" account. The only person with the authority to this was my line manager.

The use of the word "university account" was deliberately misused to make the illegality of the secret transfer unclear. There is a difference between "university funds" and "consultancy funds earned by an individual that are deposited in an account ADMINISTERED by the university". However, the finance officers use the short hand term "university funds" to give the impression this was a simple internal transfer of "university funds".

The transfer of my research funds transfer was done secretly, and I only found out about it when I went to hire a research assistant and found the money was gone. I'm still trying to get it transferred back, but I'm fighting an uphill battle because the entire system has a well crafted veneer of plausible deniability based on the deliberate confusion between terms "university funds" and "university administered funds." It's not the amount of money that is galling....it is the collusion of finance officers who do this sort of stuff as if they had no fiduciary responsibility.

I'm so sorry that this has happened to you. Watch out for when your boss starts to discredit you as a liar, which will surely happen. Your boss needs to proactively make sure that no one will believe you if you ever do try to get your commission back. In the future, don't be excellent at work , suck the theft up, get a voodoo doll of your boss, and strive for mediocrity. That will make you a smaller target for next time.

Visitor (not verified)July 3, 2015 - 6:51am

Seriously? A fresh grad without experience thinks he landed a $250k sale with no help from anybody else and should be paid $5k for a couple days work?

The way his boss is represented makes it appear the boss is slimy. I'm curious how his side of this tale would read.

Visitor (not verified)July 6, 2015 - 10:28am

Exactly! I'm guessing this deal was in process for months before the newbe started and he happened to be the one who was emailed the signed contract. Deals this big don't happen in a week. And if one magically did happen, it is extra unlikely for a second one to hit in the same week.

Joseph (not verified)July 3, 2015 - 10:08am

Also think about talking to your HR Manager. Any HRM worth their paycheck should be able to have a conversation with leadership on the negative and demotivating effects of denying someone commissions on doing the job they were brought in to do. Especially someone who is closing sales within weeks of starting a job.

Celeste (not verified)July 6, 2015 - 3:05pm

It would appear that more information is needed. A large company (Fortune 100) would have policies in place. The person needs to ask a few more questions. Perhaps they didn't have a full understanding of their commission plan. Often there is confusion with new employees on commission plans. Best to remain professional and not make quick conclusions on either side.