Recently my employer payed me a market salary adjustment. I thought it might be an error so I contacted HR. HR assured me it was my money and I was entitled to it. Now they are telling me it was in fact an error and I have to pay it back. Since I have proof in writing of them telling me it is my money am I required by law to pay it back? Are they allowed to deduct from my paychecks until it’s paid back? I made financial decisions with the money based on their information which are now going to very negatively effect me.

  • I am in Houston Texas.
    – Mitch
    Mar 14, 2019 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


am I required by law to pay it back? Are they allowed to deduct from my paychecks until it’s paid back?

It is hard to tell, but based on your description I am inclined to answer "no".

At first glance, HR's mistaken confirmation seems unlikely to override your contract (be it explicit or implicit) with the employer. Furthermore, one might allege that if the roles were reversed (meaning that the employer paid you less than the compensation you two agreed upon), you would be entitled to the corresponding correction.

On the other hand, the circumstances might be such that the employer simply changed his mind and now calling it an "error" is merely a pretext: Your inquiry with HR might have prompted the employer to revisit the matter and conclude that "maybe I need not make adjustments that my employee does not even expect".

That being said, you did the right thing by inquiring with HR. First, because it reflects your honesty and good faith (which are essential in contract law). And second, because HR's prior assurance may be tantamount to "bear[ing] the risk of a mistake". See the Restatement (Second) of Contracts at § 153-154.

The fact that you already committed to financial (?) obligations elsewhere suggests that the employer's rectification did not happen overnight. The longer the employer's delay, the lesser his merit in taking back the salary adjustment.

Even if the employer were entitled to a reimbursement, you would be entitled to restitution for any cognizable detriments that resulted from your reasonable reliance on HR's explicit assurance. See the Restatement at § 376.

  • The Restatement (Second) of Contracts is available here, now that the law firm of the link in this answer removed that resource and posted some useless "overview of contract law" instead. Jan 3, 2020 at 15:36

The extra money from that particular check is yours because it meets the legal requirements for a gift: donative intent, delivery and acceptance. They clearly did confirm that the money is intended for you, they delivered and you accepted. Because a gift cannot be taken back, they cannot claim the money.

Now, there is certainly another consideration as to whether you should stand your ground and not give the money back — your relationship with your employer: even if you legally are entitled to the money, you may wish to forfeit it to keep your job. But this is out of the scope of this site.

With regards to whether you are entitled to the same adjustment on any future pay checks — this depends on the wording of your contract, specifically whether there are any explicit or implied provisions for pay rises and whether the adjustment can be construed as a pay rise. If it can, then again — you are entitled to have this adjustment applied to any future pay checks as the employer cannot cut your salary without your approval. And, again, whether you should actually stand this ground depends on whether you are brave enough to challenge your employer.

  • The reason why a theory of gift is likely to fail in this case is that the label "market salary adjustment" evidences that the extra amount was under concept of salary, leaving no doubt that it would have not occurred were the OP not performed work there. This strikes the gratuitous component of gifts. The label allows the employer to allege that it was not a gift, but a miscalculation of salary. Hence the importance for the OP to focus on the other aspects and the parties' subsequent conduct. Mar 17, 2019 at 12:42
  • @IñakiViggers "the gratuitous component of gifts" — where did you get that from? It seems to need to be voluntary but necessarily gratuitous.
    – Greendrake
    Mar 17, 2019 at 21:50
  • "where did you get that from?" From common sense. More importantly, the entry for gift in Black's Law Dictionary (4th edition) supports my point by stating that a gift is "made gratuitously". See also Chinn v. China Nat. Aviation Corp., 138 Cal.App.2d 98, 100 (1955) ("additional compensation [...] is not a gratuity or gift, but is an offer on the part of the employer [...] [I]t becomes a supplementary contract of which [the employee] cannot be deprived without sufficient cause"). I found no Texas case law contrary thereto. Mar 17, 2019 at 22:38

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