Would It Be Awkward to Offer My Coworker Some of My Bonus Money?

I work at a large company in Canada that on the whole is a great place to work. The culture here is an enjoyable, friendly one and as employees we get good health & retirement benefits, decent wages, and an annual bonus in February. Understandably, most of us look forward to this time of year and anticipate the extra few thousand dollars that will be deposited into our bank accounts soon. However, there is a member of my department who won’t get this bonus, and doesn’t get any of the other benefits either, as he’s in a contract position and has been for over three years now. He functions exactly the same as any other member of the team and is only stuck in the contractor position as the department budget won’t allow for another full-time employee (but somehow can justify contractor expenses? I don’t know how the budget works). I don’t work directly with him, but we’ve become friends over our time together and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for him to see us all getting these bonuses while he sees nothing from it, and I know his wages aren’t higher than ours in order to make up for it.

I’m thinking of giving him some of my money this year, just as a token recognition that he should receive something. I know it’s not my responsibility to make sure he’s fairly compensated, and I can’t afford to give him much more than $500. How do you think this would be received? Is it weird to do this? Unexpected money is usually a good thing, but I also know it might create an awkward situation.

What would you do?

— J.

J., you sound like a very kind and well-meaning person, but don’t give your contractor co-worker any of your money. Yes, that would be weird, and yes it would be awkward.

I know that because I’ve been in the position of being a contractor a few times, and if any of the full-time employees had felt bad for me and offered me some of their money I would have been really weirded out by that. I certainly would not have accepted it. It is not a good feeling when you know you are pitied—especially by a coworker and friend who should not be put in a scenario where she is giving up her own money to make up for a company’s inability to pay for an additional full-time employee.

Switch places with your contractor friend for a minute. Would you feel weird if he offered to give you $500? Would you feel like there were strings attached, even if he insisted that there weren’t—that you would feel indebted to this person if you accepted the money?

When I was a contractor, I knew that my job was temporary, short-term and that I would move on to something else when my work was completed. I also made sure I was fairly compensated for whatever I was working on.

And another thing: Contractors have the ability to set their own hours regarding when they want to work, and where they want to work. They clearly define what they are working on, and what they will get paid for doing it. Companies that tell you when and where you are going to work are treating you as regular employees, and if they are telling you when and where you are going to work and classifying you an independent contractor, they are doing so illegally (as least here in the U.S., according to clearly defined rules by the IRS).

I’m not familiar with Canadian laws, but if your friend is being illegally classified as a contractor, it’s up to him to get that straightened out. If he is relying on this job to pay his bills and doesn’t want to lose it by accusing the company of illegally classifying him, then it’s up to him to figure out what he needs to do (we all don’t have the luxury of being able to walk away from a job). If he is a true contractor who has just hung around the company for a few years simply because he’s comfortable with it, maybe he’s actually okay with his situation? And if he isn’t, the better thing to do, instead of giving him your money, is to help him look for a better job.

But seriously, don’t give him any of your money.


Got questions? Email them to me: mike@thebillfold.com

Photo: Wagner Fontoura


5 Comments / Post A Comment

megsy (#1,565)

I’m Canadian and I’m suspecting that the friend in question isn’t being classified as a “contractor” for income tax purposes. The use of the term “Department” and the fact this guy has been on contract for 3 years makes me suspect he’s government or quasi-government. If this is the case – and I worked for a Crown Corp for a few years – then it really sucks the guy isn’t getting a bonus and there’s nothing that can really be done. Departments put a freeze on permanent hiring and then use people hired on contracts who make less money, work just as hard and don’t get the benefits. I have a friend at the Crown Corp who finally just had enough and left – now he’s making way more money at an organization that truly appreciate him.

I hated working on contract while I was waiting for a permanent position. I got hired, primarily because I was bilingual – but it really sucked to bust my butt and watch people celebrate their bonus before I was hired full time. I NEVER would have expected someone to give me a portion of their bonus and it would have been majorly awkward if they did, especially if they were a peer. When I was put in the position I brought the friend out for drinks and paid, to thank him for the work he did to help me out, but I think I was the only person who did it and I didn’t specifically say it was because of bonus season (though I’m sure he figured it out).

Crabtree (#774)

I definitely wouldn’t give him any money, since it would be embarrassing, but I hope the organization is recognizing him somehow. At least I get grocery gift cards even though I’m on contract. I am a bit concerned that Mike and the writer are confused by the terminology, because in Canada it is possible to be a contract employee and not be a contractor, since the company will put in your CPP and tax payments for you. You just don’t get any benefits in terms of insurance (which isn’t as necessary in Canada), and if you are on contract for a year or less you don’t necessary get vacation. I’m a contract employee now because I’ve covering a maternity leave, and last year I was covering a long term disability leave. I know people who have spent years working at the same place on revolving contracts because of grants and people being on leave. I’m not sure how it’s working for this person, but it is possible for it to happen in Canada like that without having all the benefits of being an independent contractor.

notetoself (#1,291)

@Crabtree Same in Australia. Contract positions involve the same responsibilities and obligations as permanent positions but without the same job security and benefits (although here you do get holidays and leave loading) – contractors are a different thing. Often the first year or two of employment with an organisation might be on contract and then you’d hope to get moved to permanent.
I wouldn’t give the friend money, but you could think if there was anything you might be able to say to HR that would get him on track to a permanent position, if that’s what he’s after.

facepalm (#4,409)

Agreed, good advice. An e-round of applause for you, J for clearly being a stand up kinda gal/guy but don’t.

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