Indulge me by joining me in a little guessing game. We will start with something simple and the purpose of the game is not to catch you out, but merely to set the record straight on one of my many bugbears.

I am thinking of something that is round and may or may not be filled with air. It comes in different sizes and colours and kids and dogs love to play with it in the park.

It is also used in many sporting disciplines. What am I thinking of?

If you guessed “a ball”, you are ready to proceed to the next paragraph. If you said “Frisbee”, you are halfway there and need to expand your mind ever so slightly.

But, if you uttered “Lip-ice” (or something equally absurd), you might want to read this column from the bottom up.

What am I thinking of now?

It is paid into your bank account every month on a set date and is rightfully yours. Some get more than others, but, regardless of how much it is, the tax man always gets to it first.

Yes, a salary.

By virtue of a contract – whether written or oral – with your employer, he or she is liable to pay you the agreed amount as per the terms set out in your contract of employment.

Next question: Your boss pays it into your account once a year – just before Christmas or during your birthday month – and it makes you wish your payslip always looked this impressive.

Aha, a bonus I hear you say! Yes, but forgive me if I coaxed you into believing that a bonus is a right, when in actual fact it is a mere privilege – unless of course it is stipulated in your contract of employment, which will obviously render it a contractual term.

With reference to the above, it has to be understood that various forms of bonuses exist. One is a thirteenth cheque, which is payable either at the end of the year or during the birthday month of the employee.

Another is a performance appraisal bonus, which is determined by a performance appraisal once or twice annually. An employee is then rewarded pro rata in terms of these appraisals.

The dictionary says a bonus is something given, paid or received over and above what is due or expected.

This emotive little word has its roots in the Latin word which means “good”. It is indeed good to receive the unexpected, but the surprise soon loses its lustre when a bonus is viewed like a birthright by employees.

In conclusion: An employee is not automatically entitled to a bonus, unless it is a contractual obligation placed upon the employer by an employee’s contract of employment.

Therefore, if no contractual obligation exists, then it is at the sole discretion of the employer to award bonuses to his employees.

Tell me what I am thinking of now: It is an emotion one experiences when overwhelmed by thankfulness over a kind gesture made by another. Gratitude?

Yes. And to exercise this would be my advice to you when next you get a welcome windfall from your employer – if he is not contractually obligated to reward you beyond your negotiated salary.

Send your labour and other workplace related questions to

Wikus van Rensburg is a well-respected labour law attorney in Port Elizabeth in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Issued by:

Full Stop Communications

Coetzee Gouws
041 368 4992
082 575 7991

On behalf of:

Wikus van Rensburg Attorneys