Is it ever permissible for an employer to withhold bonus payments?

There are two types of bonus scheme, discretionary and contractual. Provided that the terms of a discretionary scheme are clearly set out, an employer will be entitled to exercise discretion to withhold payment of a bonus as long as it is not acting irrationally or perversely in so doing. By contrast, if a bonus agreed under a contractual basis is not paid, despite the criteria for payment being met, an employee can apply to an employment tribunal for unlawful deductions of wages. The criteria applied to either sort of bonus scheme should not be discriminatory, and it is particularly important to avoid criteria that might discriminate against women who have been absent on maternity leave.