Should I Take This Signing Bonus…With All the Strings Attached?


My new employer offered me a $5K signing bonus—but with serious strings attached.

The hiring manager gave me a verbal offer for the job, which I accepted. Then I found out about all these strings.

According to my new employer’s paperwork, which I feel I have to sign, I’d have to pay back the full bonus if I’m not employed by them for a full year. How do I know what the future will bring? What if I don’t want to stay with them? What if I find there’s another better job for me? What if they fire me?

My new manager is eager for me to sign it and the other new hire paperwork so I can start work. I asked him, “What if you fire me?” I didn’t say but was thinking they could dangle this bonus in front of me, fire me, and then take all the money back. Meanwhile, I’d have spent my bonus.

He said, “We’re planning on hiring you, not firing you,” but I could tell my question worried him, like I was doubting myself and it was making him doubt me too.


Signing bonuses almost always come with strings attached, and job candidates need to ask about these strings before saying “yes.”

Unless you’ve already signed a written contract, you can negotiate the terms of your signing bonus. The same logic that prompted your employer to offer you a bonus—wanting to hire you—creates a willingness in them to negotiate the bonus’s terms. Most employers require employees to return the bonus money if they leave the employer prior to working for six months.

Ask your manager if they’ll agree to give the bonus in stages, without the “pay the full amount back if something happens.” Don’t add “what if I find a better job out there.” In fact, don’t even think that. If you accept this job and the signing, commit to succeeding in the job.

If you can’t renegotiate your bonus’s terms, don’t spend the money until you’ve stayed with your employer for the required term. Also, be aware you’ll need to pay taxes on your sign-on bonus.

Good luck!

(c) 2022 Lynne Curry

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2 thoughts on “Should I Take This Signing Bonus…With All the Strings Attached?

  1. My biases on these questions are probably well known here, but why can’t this person imagine even staying with an employer one year? Wanting to negotiate the bonus in stages is an interesting idea. Again, though, if you’re this skittish before even beginning the new position, how prepared are you really to commit to this employer? The employer should also be prepared to commit to employees, and this should have been a question you asked in the interview–how do you demonstrate your commitment to employees. If you’re satisfied with the answer, then get to work! It isn’t all about you, your “empowerment,” what you’re getting from it, and especially not about getting memorable experiences at work–whatever that is. I’d say, put the bonus aside, see how things go, get through the probationary period (six months, often) and see how you feel then. Maybe wait a few more months to see how things with the employer are going and if they walk the walk and talk the talk. If they do, what about you? If things are satisfactory, keep with it and then feel free to use that bonus money.

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