When I was promoted, I was given a significant sign-on bonus, but was made to sign a document that said if I left within 12 months, I would have to pay back the gross amount in around two weeks.

I want to say I was made to sign it under unfair circumstances and come to an agreement with my employer.

Is there any reasonable claim to duress, coercion or a similar description that applies to this situation?

  • 35
    Your career at that bank might be over, but your career would certainly not be over.
    – RonJohn
    Oct 8, 2019 at 19:59
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    Besides, that "you must stay for 12 months to keep the £10,000" seems perfectly reasonable. If there's any hint that you might quit, then stick it in a 12 month FD. (You'd get the taxable portion back as a refund later on.)
    – RonJohn
    Oct 8, 2019 at 20:02
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    The entire nature of the employer-employee relationship is that the employee commits to providing a certain amount of work, and the employer commits to providing a certain amount of compensation (money) in exchange for that work. And if the two sides cannot agree on the terms of that exchange, the relationship ends. What you describe doesn't appear to fall outside that basic arrangement, so what exactly makes it unfair?
    – MJ713
    Oct 8, 2019 at 20:28
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    Don't think of it as a bonus that you have to return, think of it as a bonus that you'll receive in a year if you don't quit.
    – Barmar
    Oct 8, 2019 at 21:19
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    If the options are essentially "sign this or get pushed into a shitty position", the latter part of it sounds pretty close to the UK standard of constructive dismissal to my (non-lawyerly) ears en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructive_dismissal#UK_law Of course you would have to actually refuse to sign and go through that process in order to make such a claim, I think
    – llama
    Oct 8, 2019 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


If I did not sign promotion bonus document, my career would be over. Is this duress?

No. The premise is hardly true or even logical, and what you describe falls short of duress. Not every imbalance of bargain power implies duress.

First, it seems that you could have declined the bonus, thereby preempting the sanction/remedy for leaving within 12 months.

Second, it seems hard to prove (and unrealistic) that your career would have been over if you refused to sign the document. The employer can easily refute that allegation by pointing out that there are many others who did not sign that employer's document and yet work elsewhere as investment bankers. You would need certain, additional context to reasonably allow for a conclusion that your career altogether depends on what happens with this single entity.

Third, your mention that "the bonus mitigates the horrendous weekly hours" reinforces the idea that signing the document was your preference (namely, for the purpose of obtaining some additional, non-compulsory stimulus) rather than employer-inflicted duress.

The rationale and decision for acceptance of those conditions reflects that you knowingly exercised your freedom of contract. A party is not entitled to void a contract only because he belatedly changed his mind about conditions of which he was aware beforehand.

  • 1
    Thanks for your response, notwithstanding that it reads in a way that implies you are a little angry with me. Although in the question I ask if it is duress I acknowledge in the fuller description it is not and was in search of other terminology for a situation where I am asked to sign something with no practical alternatives available to me (working with the assumption I want to continue my employment). The bonus is a standard thing at the Company and to not have signed it would have signalled that I was looking to leave the firm which was not true at that time.
    – user52404
    Oct 8, 2019 at 11:58
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    @user52404 Definitely not angry at you. I only meant to point out how the adversary (i.e., the employer) would defeat a claim of duress in this scenario. Although there might be a standard among certain industries for interpreting decisions about a bonus, that standard is not cognizable as premise of duress when the employee declines a bonus; nor would any such standard overcome the presumption of freedom of contract. The reasonable (and indeed understandable) premise that you would prefer to continue your employment there --despite its harsh conditions-- evidences that freedom of contract. Oct 8, 2019 at 12:11
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    You got a bit of the question backwards; its claim was that if the OP didn't sign the document then their career would be over. Some of your reasoning is similarly inverted as a result Oct 9, 2019 at 1:32
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: The OP got part of the question backwards too (see the missing "not" fixed in revision 2). From the quotes in the answer, it sounds like Iñaki read that part and missed the contradiction with the title. Oct 9, 2019 at 6:09
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    @user2357112 Thank you for bringing attention to the OP's edit. I accordingly edited the answer to avoid confusion. Oct 9, 2019 at 7:53

If this were English Language SE, I'd suggest "Hobson's choice" or "exploitative" (not making a judgment as to whether it actually is exploitative, just saying that "exploitative" describes how you feel about it), but since you are asking for a legal term, there's contract of adhesion, which is a contract that is presented with no negotiation allowed and an imbalance of power. A contract of adhesion is not necessarily void. And here, there is no need to appeal to any such concept to void the contract, as you are free to do so unilaterally by quitting. If you want to void the part about having to return the money, but not void the part of getting the money in the first place, that's not how contract law generally works.

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