29 CFR § 778.211 - Discretionary bonuses.
(a) Statutory provision. Section 7(e) (3)(a) of the Act provides that the regular rate shall not be deemed to include “sums paid in recognition of services performed during a given period if * * * (a) both the fact that payment is to be made and the amount of the payment are determined at the sole discretion of the employer at or near the end of the period and not pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise causing the employee to expect such payments regularly * * *”. Such sums may not, however, be credited toward overtime compensation due under the Act.
(b) Discretionary character of excluded bonus. In order for a bonus to qualify for exclusion as a discretionary bonus under section 7(e)(3)(a) the employer must retain discretion both as to the fact of payment and as to the amount until a time quite close to the end of the period for which the bonus is paid. The sum, if any, to be paid as a bonus is determined by the employer without prior promise or agreement. The employee has no contract right, express or implied, to any amount. If the employer promises in advance to pay a bonus, he has abandoned his discretion with regard to it. Thus, if an employer announces to his employees in January that he intends to pay them a bonus in June, he has thereby abandoned his discretion regarding the fact of payment by promising a bonus to his employees. Such a bonus would not be excluded from the regular rate under section 7(e)(3)(a). Similarly, an employer who promises to sales employees that they will receive a monthly bonus computed on the basis of allocating 1 cent for each item sold whenever, is his discretion, the financial condition of the firm warrants such payments, has abandoned discretion with regard to the amount of the bonus though not with regard to the fact of payment. Such a bonus would not be excluded from the regular rate. On the other hand, if a bonus such as the one just described were paid without prior contract, promise or announcement and the decision as to the fact and amount of payment lay in the employer's sole discretion, the bonus would be properly excluded from the regular rate.
(c) Promised bonuses not excluded. The bonus, to be excluded under section 7(e)(3)(a), must not be paid pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise. For example, any bonus which is promised to employees upon hiring or which is the result of collective bargaining would not be excluded from the regular rate under this provision of the Act. Bonuses which are announced to employees to induce them to work more steadily or more rapidly or more efficiently or to remain with the firm are regarded as part of the regular rate of pay. Most attendance bonuses, individual or group production bonuses, bonuses for quality and accuracy of work, bonuses contingent upon the employee's continuing in employment until the time the payment is to be made and the like are in this category; in such circumstances they must be included in the regular rate of pay.
(d) Labels are not determinative. The label assigned to a bonus does not conclusively determine whether a bonus is discretionary under section 7(e)(3). Instead, the terms of the statute and the facts specific to the bonus at issue determine whether bonuses are excludable discretionary bonuses. Thus, regardless of the label or name assigned to bonuses, bonuses are discretionary and excludable if both the fact that the bonuses are to be paid and the amounts are determined at the sole discretion of the employer at or near the end of the periods to which the bonuses correspond and they are not paid pursuant to any prior contract, agreement, or promise causing the employee to expect such payments regularly. Examples of bonuses that may be discretionary include bonuses to employees who made unique or extraordinary efforts which are not awarded according to pre-established criteria, severance bonuses, referral bonuses for employees not primarily engaged in recruiting activities, bonuses for overcoming challenging or stressful situations, employee-of-the-month bonuses, and other similar compensation. Such bonuses are usually not promised in advance and the fact and amount of payment is in the sole discretion of the employer until at or near the end of the period to which the bonus corresponds.