Help! My Former Employer Won't Pay My Bonus

Last Updated Oct 28, 2011 5:05 PM EDT

Sales commissions and bonuses are wonderful things... but only when companies actually pay them. I just got the following email from a sales machine reader who's struggling to get paid what's owed her. Here's her email, followed by my advice on how to break the logjam:
I worked in a sales group for two years. Due to personal reasons, I had to relocate to a different city and leave that job. When I left, I was owed my sales bonus for last quarter I worked there. This was a year ago and I still haven't been paid that bonus. Instead, I keep getting the run around. The company hasn't said "No, we won't pay you." They just seem to want to delay my request for as long as possible so that I will drop the issue and forget about the money they owe me. Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation?
Advice? Moi? You must be kidding. Of course I have advice. First, though, you need to understand what's going on.

By not paying you, they're working a cash flow issue. Their accounting department has been told to "prioritize accounts payable" and you, as a former employee, are simply not a priority.

Not yet, anyway. We're going to change that. Here's how. Draft a formal letter to the CEO of the company. It should read something like this:

Dear Mr. Big:

I want to give you a heads up about a serious problem in the operations of your company. It appears that your accounting department is experiencing difficulties handling basic requests for payment.

For the past year, I have been trying to arrange for payment of a bonus that I earned in [quarter]. This money is definitely owed to me, as evidenced by the enclosed documentation.

My lawyer has advised me to take the matter up with the [state] Department of Labor Complaints, but I believe that the problem is not intentional, but merely the result of inefficiency and sloth.

Since I know that you care deeply about your company, I'm hoping you will look into this matter personally and make whatever changes are necessary to ensure your company fulfills its financial obligations.

[your name]

cc: [EVERYBODY in the management chain down to your former sales manager, and including the CFO and anybody you've dealt with in accounting.]

Address the envelope by hand, and send the letter directly to the CEO, registered mail, return receipt, signature required. Send a copy, registered mail, to everybody on the CC list.

You will be paid within two weeks, because that's now the only way that accounting can "prove" that they're capable of doing their job. The only acceptable answer that they can give the CEO, if and when he looks into the matter, is "we've already paid her." Any other answer simply confirms your accusations of inefficiency.

In the highly unlikely event that they continue to stiff you, email me, and I'll tell you what to do next. (Hint: it involves contacting the press, which you have already done.)

But chances are that the above will take care of the problem.

Please note that I've crafted the letter so that it probably won't prevent you from getting a good reference from your sales manager. Yeah, you're scapegoating the accounting department but, hey, that's who's really causing the problem anyway.

READERS: Any other suggestions?

NOTE: You'll find plenty of similar tips and techniques in my new book How to Say It: Business to Business Selling now available for pre-sale here:

Barnes & Noble