QuikTrip has a bonus system based upon a secret shopper program. Employees are rewarded for extra good work based upon their ratings in the program. What an excellent thing to do! However, QuikTrip got caught in a making a mistake that many companies probably don’t even realize they could make too. In fact when I talk about this in the SHRM prep classes I teach most people are agast. The mistake that QuikTrip made was in giving nonexempt employees non-discretionary bonuses! Because if you give nonexempt employees non-discretionary bonuses you have to use that in your overtime calculation for the period of time that was covered by the bonus.
Discretionary bonuses do not require such payment, but may have consequences beyond just the simple payment of the bonus. To avoid problems Reisman suggests either of the following in constructing a bonus program for nonexempt employees.
- True discretion – both the language of the bonus plan and the actual administration of the plan must demonstrate “discretion.”
- A percentage of total earnings (both straight time and overtime) payout. As to the latter option, instead of a lump sum payment, the FLSA authorizes employers to pay a “percentage bonus” because it automatically includes an allowance for overtime pay as well as for straight time pay. The percentage bonus tool can be a silver bullet to effect compliance with the FLSA overtime provisions, while leaving intact the non-discretionary format of the bonus. However, a percentage bonus still requires advance planning, as it may have associated side effects, such as causing the employer to make different bonus payouts for similarly situated employees who earn different amounts of money, by virtue of different pay rates or working different hours.
Or you just don’t pay ANY bonuses to nonexempt employees! Overtime problem solved! But wait that certainly does not get you in the direction you want to go in with having committed employees whom you want to reward for helping the company be successful. So careful design and understanding and guidance needs to go into each bonus program you design. Realize the cost of the bonus is going to be greater than the actual bonus designation. And if you don’t have someone on your HR staff qualified to do this then get a good compensation consultant to help you. It will be a whole lot cheaper than paying $750,000 in back pay. QuikTrip got burned trying to do something good you need to avoid the same happening to you.
I would like for some of my compensation buddies to weigh in on this and perhaps offer some additional advice. Ann? Phil? Folks at Compensation Cafe?