Pay Dirt

My Boss Wanted to “Share His Good Fortune” in a Very Weird Way

I was caught off guard.

A pair of hands opening an envelope with a $700 check.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by seb_ra/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I had the opportunity to meet the VP of my department in person for the first time last week. He is my supervisor’s boss, but still overall my boss. We have been working together on a challenging project for the past two years.

He indicated that due to my performance I would be getting an early bonus from my employer and then he also gave me a personal check for $750. He said he wanted to share his good fortune with some individuals and asked me not to say anything because he wasn’t able to do this for everyone in the department. There was no impropriety or anything remotely resembling a bribe or anything like that but it still feels strange. At that moment, I was caught off guard and thanked him for his generosity before I opened the envelope in private. I am financially secure and I don’t need the money. Should I send the check back? Or should I add to my own end-of-year charitable donation and send him a thank you note and not worry about it?

—Why Did My Boss Give Me Money?

Dear My Boss,

This is a hard one. While the VP didn’t violate any laws, it raises concerns about favoritism if he’s only giving substantial gifts to a few members of staff. Giving a token of appreciation to a subordinate to recognize a successful project is entirely reasonable. But such a significant gift could violate company policies or appear as though he’s circumventing the internal compensation structure.

In some industries, personal thank-you gifts from a boss of tickets or meals worth more than $750 might be the norm. So why not cash instead of Broadway tickets? My economics brain loves cash gifts for their efficiency. It’s certainly better than the six pre-selected ebooks that Harper Collins staff were (reportedly) given as their 2021 employee gift.

Returning the check is likely making too big a deal of it. I would only give the check back if you work in a highly regulated industry or public service role where such a present could cause issues for the VP. Donating the money and noting the donation in a thank you card is an excellent way to sidestep the gift without refusing it. If this happens again, feel free to turn it down and tell him, “Thank you for recognizing my hard work, but I don’t feel comfortable with such a large personal gift.”

—Lillian

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