boss organizes a poker game to determine end-of-year bonuses

A reader writes:

Is it legal for my husband’s boss to have his employees play poker to determine their bonuses?

The backstory begins last winter, when a declaration was made by the owner of the company, “Michael,” that Christmas poker would be played in the office! So Michael walks in like Santa Claus with thousands of dollars worth of quarters in his jolly sack, and the Hunger Games of bonuses ensues. Coworker was pitted against coworker, and they duked it out for coins.

My husband is apparently decent at poker and came home with about a thousand bucks (yes, in quarters) and a few new video games that he will never play. Most others weren’t so lucky, and the bottom people were given about $200 in consolation prizes, though they had worked there much longer than my husband.

I suppose it feels different this year because last year he was new, and didn’t even know if he had worked there long enough to merit any sort of bonus. But this year, he did some critical work for the company and was told he would get a big raise and bonus a few months ago. Then he was told that finances were tight for the company, so not to plan on any pay increases until next year. Now we find out that Michael used company money he could have used to compensate my husband on an extremely expensive poker prize for this year (a used Hummer).

Does he have ground to stand on legally from this experience? And if it isn’t, what do you do? File a report with the Better Business Bureau?

There’s no law against employers using ridiculous methods to determine bonuses; managers can base bonuses on pretty much anything they want as long as it’s not a specifically prohibited thing thing (like race, sex, religion, or so forth). An employer could allocate bonuses based on who drives the cleanest car or who has the best musical pitch if they wanted to. It would be terrible management, but it would be legal.

The only legal issue would be if the poker game doesn’t comply with your local gambling laws.

I’d look at what the rest of your husband’s experience has been with this employer. I’m betting it hasn’t been great since this is the action of a manager who thinks it’s okay to play games (literal ones) with people’s compensation, who tells people to expect big raises and bonuses that then don’t materialize, and who — while finances are allegedly tight — spends large sums of money on a Hummer instead of on paying people what he promised them. That suggests there’s plenty in this work environment that’s problematic beyond Hummergate, and that the poker game is just a symptom of the larger problems.

It’s a pretty good job market out there right now for a lot of people/places/fields, just saying.

Read an update to this letter

{ 429 comments… read them below }

  1. Atlantic Toast Conference*

    Gambling is prohibited by many religions, for example Islam. Would it change the calculus at all if an employee invoked their religion?

    1. Aquawoman*

      This is a great point. I also suspect that men’s knowledge of poker is on average higher than women’s knowledge of poker. That and the hummer are very bro-ey.

        1. Observer*

          I think that would be pretty easy – all the folks whose religion forbids gambling don’t get to even qualify for a bonus.

          1. Observer*

            Oops. Sorry, I was talking about the religion, not gender aspect.

            But, I’d be willing to bet that there are plenty of gender discriminatory practices in that office – This guy’s choices scream “dude bro who thinks he’s still in college”

            1. Coder von Frankenstein*

              Agreed. If this is the only dysfunction in that office, I will eat my shoes after walking through a freshly fertilized cornfield.

              1. Autism Dad*

                Right. Just like the woman in the office supplies thread who threw a fit when IT replaced the copier, and embezzled millions from the company. These things don’t often happen in a vacuum.

                1. Pennyworth*

                  Her attachment to the old copier was weird though – unless she thought the new one was somehow going to store evidence of her embezzling.

                2. allathian*

                  Pennyworth, it’s entirely possible that a modern copier might do just that. I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility to program a printer/scanner/copier to store a digital copy of everything. Just saying.

                3. BatManDan*

                  Allathian, you don’t have to program them to store data. Every copier manufactured in the last 15 years has a hard drive with a record of every document that was ever on the glass. Search CBS News + photocopier + identity theft, and you’ll find a video that was scary when it came out in 2008 or 2009.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        I mean, my mom taught me to play poker, but yes. Also many people have moral objections to gambling regardless of religion. And as Alison points out, it’s a really, really lousy way to treat employees.

        1. Caaan Do!*

          Yes! I didn’t even think of that when I typed my comment below, this is a horrible thing to dangle in front of people with gambling addiction.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yeah, I got goosepimples reading that, because of a previous relationship with a guy who gambled all my money away: no way do I ever want to have anything to do with gambling.
          For our annual meeting, my previous boss had the brilliant idea of taking us to a shooting range (this is pretty well unheard of in Europe…) then on to the casino. My team lost at the shooting range because I refused to touch a gun, but luckily I was able to slip my company-awarded gambling tokens to a colleague. I told him to split any winnings with me, but then when he handed me a fistful of euros the next day I realised I didn’t want gambling winnings.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        But would basing bonuses on a non-work activity that aome employees cannot take part in due to religious beliefs be illegal?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, that’s what I’d meant — you’d need to make other arrangements for people with religious exemptions (which is true of pretty much all workplace activities unless doing so would cause undue hardship, which this wouldn’t).

          1. A.*

            My religion is so private and I hate being singled out for it so much that I rarely bring it up in the workplace, but this is one instance in which I would be seriously considering making a stink on those grounds (while job hunting). Being asked to gamble at work for a bonus would be extremely upsetting for those reasons and others. !!! all around.

          2. Curious*

            While that might help some other employee, OP’s husband “is apparently decent at poker” and played last year, so he might not be best placed to complain on the basis of religious discrimination on his own behalf.

            That said, this is obviously an [expletives deleted] bad practice.

            1. hayling*

              I think actually he might have more basis to complain because he did do well last year. Not on religious grounds, just that this sucks. But honestly this seems like a red flag for a majorly toxic work environment.

    2. laowai_gaijin*

      Yeah, my mom grew up in a conservative Christian sect that banned card games and gambling, even. The poker is a terrible idea for many, many reasons.

      1. kathy*

        honestly, the religious exemption pales in comparison to NOT PAYING PEOPLE BASED ON THE WORK THEY DID in my view.

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          Yes! I love card games. (Not poker, which seems boring to me.) But I don’t want to be compensated based on my card skills. (And I am great at rummy!)

          1. Anne Elliot*

            That’s my (much less persuasive) reason for objecting: Poker is boring! It’s boring like Monopoly is boring, fun at first but a complete drag by hour three. There’s also something performative about it that I really dislike. The bonuses are not tied to work performance but rather tied to an employee’s success at performing a random task set by the boss. Making people jump through hoops just because you can is not “fun” it’s a jerk move.

          2. Web of Pies*

            Oooo interesting, what if the boss let the players choose the game? Like, no one can beat me at Connect 4, but I wouldn’t even bother to try the poker game because I know I’d lose, because winning at poker is more about intimately knowing poker than any luck factor, and I only know the very basics.

            **10,000 caveats that I hate the idea overall and wouldn’t participate, but it’d be funny to have the players choose the game and watch the boss get crushed over and over. I bet he’s good at poker and that’s why he chose it.

        2. Rose*

          I see the religious exemptions as a smart/tricky way around a practice that is 100% awful, not that religious issues make it more awful.

          I’m sure some would say they do but whether or not you are able to play, no one is getting what’s fair. And with the Hummer prize it seems like only one person is getting a bonus so most people are screwed regardless of religion.

        3. MissBaudelaire*

          This was what I thought, too. So if I bust my butt and do a great job on a big project that is great for the company, but Fergus goofed off and didn’t do much at all, but he won poker–then he gets the bonus and I don’t? What’s the incentive here? I might as well spend my days at work studying how to be a good poker player.

      2. Paris Geller*

        I work in libraries in Texas, and we cannot do anything “Bingo”, even if there is no entry fee or if it’s called something else. It falls under the Bingo Enabling Act. Slightly different, but still a form of gambling/game of luck.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      But is the poker game figuring out their bonus OR are the employees getting no bonus but an opportunity to play a game for prizes at the end of the year party?

      The boss/management is terrible and every employee should flee as soon as they have a new job lined up but it’s probably not illegal. It’s not fair (or sensible or reasonable), but the LW is hoping that something not being fair makes it illegal and it is not.

      1. Absurda*

        My take is that people used to get bonuses but, starting last year, the bonus pool was converted to quarters and everyone had to play for whatever they’d get. If they didn’t get a minimum of $200 then they would get that much after the game.

        So, pretty much everyone got at least a $200 bonus with others walking away with whatever over that amount they won in the poker games.

        So, someone who killed themselves all year to do excellent work could get $200 while someone who did nothing all year could walk away with thousands.

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          Not a $200 bonus. $200 “worth” of consolation prizes, they may or may not actually have wanted and almost certainly can’t use to pay their mortgage or put food on their family’s table.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Yeah. There was a mention of “video games he will never play” — so I suspect that $200 worth of prizes was $200 cover price of video games bought on clearance, or movies from Big Lots, or whatever else. Not actually $200.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        As Alison pointed out, gambling/gaming laws can make it very illegal.
        My company cancelled a raffle fundraiser for charity because of state gaming laws.

    4. Seminaranalyse*

      I also See the Problem of a gambling addiction. What if an employer has an addiction? In Order to get a bonus He has to relapse. Highly Problematic and i think there could be Problems because there are People Who can’t get bonuses cause Religion or Illness. I think a Lawyer could would be interesting here.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I’m not sure if gambling addiction qualifies under ADA, now that I think of it. Not every existing/diagnosable condition qualifies.

    5. It's semantics but...*

      It’s a little semantics but it’s not gambling since the employees can’t leave with less money they showed up with. Still ridiculous regardless.

      1. Seminaranalyse*

        There is still the Luck Element and you still can make your win larger. Some People consider it relapsing when they play Monopoly or Wheel of Fortune. This is still a relapse for someone with a gambling addiction.

    6. raincoaster*

      Definitely. God help him if he has a Southern Baptist in there, although one suspects that anyone who thinks Hummers are cool does not employ many of that faith.

    1. Artemesia*

      And does anyone really WANT a used Hummer — or a new one? I mean someone would but MOST?

      Husband is a guy who has done wonderful things on an important project — I am guessing there might well be a market for his competence and this is a golden moment for people who are good in many niche skills to find great new jobs. He should be taking a very good at what his potential options might be. He need not be in a rush but it is an employees market at the moment. I know a couple of people getting lots of interviews right now.

      1. Double A*

        Yeah, a Hummer is…ugh. it would a burden to win, let’s just say. I think the fact that the boss chose that specific car says a lot about the boss.

        1. Ashley*

          Does it come with a gas card and insurance? I feel like the trade-in and even accepting is a tax nightmare.
          I would definitely call a CPA on how to even touch that tax wise even without a trade-in.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Its being used might be the saving grace here, as the depreciation for being driven off the lot has already been accounted for. He could probably resell it for roughly the tax value. But I’m not a CPA, so don’t believe me.

          1. SnappinTerrapin*

            I’d get their bids, if someone gave me the vehicle, and then check with a local dealer who claims they will pay $200 more. That’s pretty much my approach to any vehicle that is “given” under circumstances that make it taxable income. The fair market value, for tax purposes, is established by getting these written bids.

            I don’t mind a little nickel & dime poker among friends, to pass the time. I used to do that. A losing night cost less than going to a movie.

            But I would decline the invitation to play poker for my “bonus” at work. The idea simply makes no business sense, for the employees or the employer. It is entirely disconnected from compensating the employees for their contribution to the business, and undermines any more reasonable efforts the employer might make to encourage higher performance.

        2. Cranky lady*

          This. It comes down to bad assumptions that everyone is like the supervisor. (A great example of dysfunction.) The one person I have ever known with a Hummer had to get a second car because the Hummer didn’t fit in the garage where they worked.

        3. Sopranohannah*

          I feel like the best case scenario in this situation would be if everyone takes their quarters home, declines to participate because the hummer is so impractical, and leaves the boss stuck holding a crappy vehicle.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah… This seems akin to spending the same amount on Magic: The Gathering cards. Sure, there are people who would be thrilled… but that number is a lot less than half of any random sampling of the populace.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          Nah, they were big in the aughts during the post-9/11 panic where certain people wanted to LARP as soldiers in the desert.

          1. RussianInTeaxs*

            H2 and H3 for sure. People pretended they are so very tough, when H3 was basically a worse Tahoe.

      3. Worldwalker*

        Depends. If it’s a real Hummer, I’d take it. Something like an H3? “Hello, used car dealership….”

      4. londonedit*

        I don’t even know what I’d do if someone tried to give me a Hummer. Firstly, I already have a car which is of a sensible size and does a very respectable number of miles to the gallon, secondly I couldn’t afford to fill the thing with petrol, thirdly it wouldn’t fit in the parking spaces where I live, fourthly it would barely fit on the road where I live (people tend to park on both sides of the road in London and it doesn’t leave much space in the middle) and fifthly I would look like an utter pillock trying to drive it.

    2. Karo*

      I have to wonder if it’s a used Hummer because it’s actually the boss’ old car and this way he gets to pocket the cash while telling himself it’s a good thing he’s doing. But I’m a little jaded today.

      1. Rose*

        I feel like they would know his car? Maybe it’s a second car, but for some reason I have a strong sense if this man owned a hummer he would have driven it or bragged about it. Maybe it’s a used broken hummer?? Or maybe he plans to win it himself but insist everyone had a fair chance at a bonus?

        There are so many horrible options!

    3. Mental Lentil*

      Would be ashamed if you accidentally backed it into the boss’s new sports car in the parking lot.

      But hey, the boss’s insurance works, right?

    4. Sales Geek*

      Any Hummer right now is used. GM stopped making them in 2010. There are plans for an electric model but it won’t be available until 2022.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        This makes it even worse. Thing is at least 11 years old and probably had over 100K miles on it. If I won it I would organize one of those events where you get to swing a sledgehammer at a car to relieve your frustrations. People who lost the poker game would get extra swings and go first.

    5. MissBaudelaire*

      It also bugs me because–what if I don’t want a damn Hummer? I want the bonus that I was meant to get all along! That way I can spend it on what I actually need rather than having this stupid gas guzzling car that I didn’t even choose out.

      1. JustaTech*

        This exactly. The boss has this assumption that everyone is like him and would want this one thing. And then he gets the entertainment of watching his employees fight for the “big prize”. Gross.

        We had a similar thing at work a few years ago with a cube decorating contest where the prize was a pair of tickets to the local NFL game. But the tickets were so expensive (for the very cheapest seats) that there weren’t any second or third place prizes. So people either went nuts trying to win the tickets or bowed out entirely because they *didn’t* want to go to a football game. So, overall terrible for employee engagement and team cohesiveness.

      1. HerdingCatsWouldBeEasier*

        Thank you for the timely reminder to not drink my coffee while reading the comments.

      2. RJ*

        I’d nominate this for comment of the week if we had that. Thankfully I’d just finished my tea or I would have spilled it in a not cool way!!

  2. Jam Today*

    The variety of ways that people choose to be extremely shitty to one another for no reason is really astounding.

    1. James*

      My guess is this isn’t what happened. My guess is that this started out as a small company or group where everyone was on board with this policy. I can see a lot of the more blue-collar folks I’ve worked with enjoying this–you get a bonus (and $200 is not insignificant to someone like a laborer or driller’s assistant), and you get the excitement of a fairly high-stakes poker game (some have a moral objection to gambling, but others find it exciting). If it’s a fairly egalitarian group, or a…well, a fairly rough-and-tumble group is the nice way to put it, everyone may have agreed to it at one point. Folks that consider a bar fight to be a team-building event won’t object to a bit of gambling. And if the year-end bonuses were all fairly small at that time, it may not have mattered in the grand scheme of things.

      As groups grow norms necessarily need to change. What works for 5 people doesn’t work for 50 or 500. But people resist change.

      I’ve rarely met someone who says “I’m going to find a way to be a jerk to everyone working for me.” I’ve encountered many, many people who say “This has always worked, so this is what we’re going to keep doing.” If I have to guess why something happened without direct knowledge of what the supervisor was thinking, I’m usually going to bet on the latter explanation rather than the former.

      1. TiredMama*

        I could be reading it wrong but it sounded like last Christmas was the first year of Christmas hunger games style poker (as well as the husband’s first Christmas at the company).

        1. NeutralJanet*

          Yes, that’s what it sounds like to me—if it were a normal yearly practice that they had always done, I’m not sure if Michael would have made a declaration that there was going to be Christmas poker this year.

      2. anonymous73*

        I don’t care how it started…it’s not even close to being okay. IME, bonuses are a nice to have but never a guarantee. But deciding who gets what by playing poker…that’s an asshole move right there. And just because his intention wasn’t to be jerk doesn’t make him any less of one.

        Now a friendly holiday poker game I get. But this is one of the most BS things I’ve ever read on here (and there have been some doozies).

        1. James*

          “…it’s not even close to being okay.”

          No argument from me on this point. I was just saying it may not have been an attempt to be a jerk to start with. I find understanding why something happens to be useful when trying to correct it (the 5 Whys thing and all that), and I find that starting from a point of hostility usually precludes any meaningful change. If you start from a stance of “Yeah, I see why you’d do it, but here are some problems with your idea” you get a lot more traction. And I’ve made it a point to try to see things from the other person’s perspective. We’re awash in knee-jerk moralizing on the internet, substituting and out-competing sober analysis. I think that’s corroding our society.

          And a lot of this is cultural. Like I said, certain groups wouldn’t view it as being a jerk move; they’d view it as an entertaining way to deal with the issue. I think they’re wrong, and while I enjoy working with some folks like this I also do not let them anywhere near my personal life, but such people do exist. I could see my father enjoying something like this, and I could definitely see my grandfathers enjoying this method of determining bonuses (though my maternal grandfather may have abstained for moral objections; you could never fully tell what he’d do this with).

          1. Mental Lentil*

            I find understanding why something happens to be useful when trying to correct it (the 5 Whys thing and all that)

            I would agree if you are trying to diagnose why a piece of manufacturing equipment is on the fritz, but this isn’t necessary when someone is being an asshat. They simply need to stop being an asshat. This kind of thinking is only useful if you are their psychiatrist.

            Like I said, certain groups wouldn’t view it as being a jerk move; they’d view it as an entertaining way to deal with the issue

            No. There is nothing entertaining about watching your bonus, which you earned by significant hard work and dedication, being gambled away. This entire scenario is wrong on so many levels.

            Put yourself in LW’s husband’s shoes and let us know how you would feel about it.

            1. Colette*

              James explained very well how this could happen, though. If the bonus you are expecting is $200, then you’re gaining the chance to win more without losing anything.

              1. Observer*

                Except that some people – certainly the OP’s husband – WERE actually expecting more than $200 this season.

              2. j!*

                It sounds like people didn’t even get a minimum $200, though. They got random junk (“bottom people were given about $200 in consolation prizes”) worth around that much, which is not the same thing as a bonus at all.

                1. Worldwalker*

                  Anyone who would spend the employees’ bonus money on an 11-year-old used vehicle would probably get the “$200” worth of stuff at the flea market.

                2. MissBaudelaire*

                  I’m imagining those consolation prizes being like, off brand Spongebob fleece blankets often sold in booths by the road for twenty bucks a pop.

        2. Betteauroan*

          I would have been furious if I worked there. For one thing, I believe gambling is wrong and it has a negative effect on too many people and also, I haven’t played poker in over 20 years. I don’t remember how to play, so I would have had to bow out. It’s unfair to people who are morally opposed to gambling and who don’t like card games.

        1. James*

          I have just as much evidence for my scenario as the “He did it because he’s a jerk” crowd. I don’t see anyone objecting to their fantasies. And I’ve got plenty of evidence, in the form of interacting with people who would view such a poker tournament as a positive aspect of workplace culture (the stuff they’ve told me goes on in their company is far worse).

          1. Mental Lentil*

            A random poker tournament would be fun.

            A poker tournament to determine my bonus would not be fun. My bonus should be based on the value I’ve brought to the company over the past year, not on how my poker skills compare to everybody’s else poker skills.

            If you don’t understand that basic fact, your calibration of what is normal is way off.

            1. NeutralJanet*

              James isn’t disagreeing with you, though, just suggesting that there might be people in the world who would, especially given that everyone gets at least $200 in the end. Is that so hard to imagine?

              1. Mental Lentil*

                And see, that’s what’s wrong with the situation here. “Everybody gets at least $200 in the end” is NOT okay if these people brought the same amount of value to the company as somebody who walked away with $1,000.

                Unfortunately, capitalism has conditioned/brainwashed many of us to think “At least you got $200 so be grateful for that” instead of thinking “this guy is cheating me out of money I earned just so he can have fun.” There is nothing good about this situation, no matter how it came about, and no matter how many people are okay with it.

                Many people were okay with concentration camps. Many people were okay with slavery. Those things were legal. But that doesn’t make them right. I’m not comparing these things with LW’s situation, but my point is that just because something is legal and people are okay with does not mean it’s okay and we should just go along with it. People defending Michael or this situation are the reason these things continue to happen.

                1. Colette*

                  It doesn’t sound like this was money they were earned. It is literally a bonus, and one not based on performance. They have already been paid their salaries.

                  Is this a good way to distribute bonuses? No. But it’s not an outrage, because this is not money they were owed – and the OP’s husband got $1000 last year when he was expecting $0, so he benefited from the system he hates this year.

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  You can benefit from a system while recognizing that it is unfair, or a bad way to do business, or not sustainable. Husband is not required to like the bonus structure if he did okay by it one year.

                  This year husband was told he would get a raise AND a bonus based on his good work. Now he’s told that there is no raise, is no bonus, but that money has gone toward a 15-year-old car that he might have an opportunity to win.

                3. Catonymous*

                  I think “capitalism” is *also* the notion that “I deserve better compensation than that other person because I’m a bigger asset to the company.”

                  Also, can we not bring slavery and concentration camps into EVERY conversation where there is some disagreement? Those things aren’t relevant here.

                  ALSO, nobody is defending this situation. Rather, James was suggesting that rather than assuming anyone who does something crappy is doing so in order to actively be a jerk, it is more productive in many situations to start from a place of assuming they had good intentions. This isn’t “letting them off the hook”, or allowing the crappy behaviour to continue unchecked, it’s just more likely to lead to a positive outcome for those who are being impacted, especially if the conversation is being initiated by someone in a position of relatively less authority than the person doing the crappy thing.

                4. not owen wilson*

                  Ironically, in trying to argue why why we shouldn’t understand this jerk boss’s viewpoint, you picked two atrocities where trying to understand why people were okay with it is essential for preventing them from happening again……

                1. Splendid Colors*

                  Exactly. $200 in clearance bin junk I didn’t pick out for myself is not the same as $200.

                  It’s doubtful I could sell it on eBay for $200 and I’d still have to go through the hassle of selling it on eBay. And no, I don’t want to rent a table at the flea market ON MY WEEKEND to try to convert it to cash.

                  I don’t need $200 in white elephant gifts for the parties my friends are not having because pandemic. I didn’t need more than maybe three white elephant gifts back in the Before Times.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              The only people who would be happy with this system are those who feel that by the old system they’re getting nothing, or the minimum company payout. Your top performers who expected to be at the top of the bonus structure are only happy if they know they are the top poker player in the office by quite a chunk… and that’s only going to be one person.

              “Joe wouldn’t have gotten any bonus because he sleeps in the stockroom all day, but with this system he might win $1000!” is only a good plan if all of your employees sleep in the stockroom all day and would expect no bonus.

              I could see it arising in a small office in lieu of door prizes/raffle drawings. But not in lieu of bonuses for very long.

          2. Colette*

            Yeah, I agree that it could happen the way you described – which is espccially likely if these are generic Christmas bonuses and not bonuses directly tied to work. The boss likes giving them out with a game of some sort, everyone knows that’s how it’s done and are OK with it (because they win occasionally and, if they don’t, they get the minimum amount), and then someone new come on board who doesn’t know or agree with doing it that way.

      3. Mockingjay*

        “As groups grow norms necessarily need to change. What works for 5 people doesn’t work for 50 or 500. But people resist change.” So true!

        There’s been quite a few similar letters over the last 3 or 4 years. Boss and small group of work comrades have favorite system/process, outing, or bonus means; company grows; newer employees don’t like/can’t participate/can’t use system, outing, or bonus game; Boss resists changing because he and original cronies really enjoy the old way of doing things; Boss or Unhappy Newer Employee writes to Alison; she and commentariat kindly explain Why Things Must Change…

        But this also applies to work practices. Just last week, Big Boss turned down a proposal for New System because he thinks Old System is perfectly adequate. It’s not; there’s numerous complaints from 90% of staff. Big Boss’s Crony invented Old System 20 years ago for Boss when program was 10 people and one project and neither will let it go, even though Current Program has multiple projects, 160 staff, New System has proven track records on other projects, everyone has asked for it, and it will fix the problems.

        (We haven’t given up; we’re going to ask him if we can use my problem project as a test case, which will give him some data to decide.)

      4. Observer*

        My guess is that this started out as a small company or group where everyone was on board with this policy. I can see a lot of the more blue-collar folks I’ve worked with enjoying this–

        Can we stop ignoring what the actual letter says in order to make up some fiction to excuse ridiculous behavior? This is not what the OP is describing.

        beyond that, This has NEVER been a good way to allocate bonuses.

        And while it’s probable that the boss did not do this specifically to be a jerk, it is almost certain that he did this without caring that he WAS being a jerk.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          Thank you. Boss is an asshat; there’s no need to come up with imaginary reasons to explain away his asshat behavior.

          Whether or not the bonuses were “earned” (ugh, again with the capitalism and Stockholm syndrome) is irrelevant. The purpose of a bonus is to thank employees for their hard work and to motivate them. Handing out bonuses based on their relative ability at a card game is extremely demotivating. This is not how any of this works. The only reason Michael is giving out bonuses is for his own entertainment. It doesn’t matter how this came to be. It’s wrong, and Michael should cut it out.

        2. Worldwalker*

          It sounds like he wanted to see his staff competing for the bonus he dangled in front of them. He wanted to make them jump for the prize.

          That’s not a thing that a person who respects his employees as people, and values their work for the company, does. That’s what a jerk does.

          1. Betteauroan*

            This boss is horrible and his motivation is questionable. If my boss did this to me, I would be demoralized and certainly not motivated to be a better employee for him. I wonder what cockamamie scheme he is cooking up for this year’s bonus….I don’t even want to think about it.

          2. MissBaudelaire*

            That was also how I felt. It’s really kind of sick.

            If he just liked to play poker, I don’t see the harm in him, like, buying a twenty dollar gift card to like Outback, and whoever wants to play can play. But this just feels all kinds of icky.

            1. JustaTech*

              Exactly this. A few years ago for my site’s holiday party we did a “fun pretend” casino (legal in my state) where you hire a company and they set up a variety of casino games (craps, roulette, blackjack, maybe poker?) and you play for pretend money and the three people with the most money at the end of the night get some kind of prize. But you don’t have to play to get money, often people handed off their winnings to other people if they left early or didn’t want the prizes. (In previous years we’ve done a raffle.)

              Honestly it would have been just as much fun without any prizes. But there’s a huge difference between a nominal prize and your bonus (especially an earned bonus).

              1. MissBaudelaire*

                For a student fun day in middle school, one of the teachers set up a little casino and the prizes were all candy bars. It was like, Plinko type games rather than poker, but I do know there was roulette. I think they had blackjack. Looking back, it is kind of a strange theme for middle schoolers, but the prizes were just candies.

                It would be fun enough without any prizes, like you said, or candy bars, or little gift cards, or stuff like bath soap baskets. Certainly not for yearly bonuses.

        3. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          “Can we stop ignoring what the actual letter says in order to make up some fiction to excuse ridiculous behavior?”

          Yes, please.

          This theorizing about how the poker game bonus setup could possibly, maybe have evolved, in a certain theoretical kind of environment, populated by a certain theoretical kind of people is a classic example of the kind of thing some commenters here have called fan fiction. While writing and reading fan fiction can be loads of fun (speaking as one who has done both), it’s very much NOT any help in solving the real world problems we come to AAM to read about. Especially when it veers off in directions that were not even hinted at by the LW.

          Also, this: “And while it’s probable that the boss did not do this specifically to be a jerk, it is almost certain that he did this without caring that he WAS being a jerk.”

          I agree with this SO much! Life is loaded with cases of this. I do believe there are people who commit acts of deliberately assholery and genuinely enjoy the results, but if you really think about it, a huge percentage of the crappy things that happen in life are due to someone else’s behavior happen because of someone not caring that they were being a jerk, rather than purposely trying to be one. And guess: assholery still hurts and damages people in real ways, regardless of the original intent.

      5. pancakes*

        Lol at the idea that enjoying this would be a blue collar thing. Years ago I dated an investment banker who introduced me to blackjack, and he would occasionally (and not infrequently!) gamble tens of thousands of dollars a hand. There are lots of Wall St. guys who love gambling. It’s not always a small part of why they do it for a living.

        Even if this started with a small and willing group, it’s a huge jerk move to keep at it with a larger and more sensible group. Paying people in quarters is also a jerk move. Pretending that the burden of an old Hummer is a good bonus, also a jerk move.

      6. ThisIsNotaDrill*

        Drillers assistant! Around here with the hours they work those guys make $50-60k. $200 would be a let down. But now that you mention it this sounds like something a large family-run drilling and geothermal company outside of DC would do.

      7. OP*

        I wish you were right. This is more of a situation where there are still no more than 20 employees, and his yes-man tells him it’s a great idea. Conveniently, his yes-man won $5,000 this year.

      8. Mannequin*

        How very classist of you to assume that “blue collar” folks are “rough & tumble”, like to drink & fight, or would enjoy any of this nonsense.

    2. WFH with Cat*

      “The variety of ways that people choose to be extremely shitty to one another for no reason is really astounding.”

      +1,000, Jam Today! (Frankly, I don’t care if it was thought thru, planned, or just general asshattery. I’m just very tired of people being complete shits to other people because they think that whatever they want to do is 100% okay. Bosses who play around with employees’ compensation are horrible.)

  3. Mona*

    This reminds me of the time a former employer ran a holiday door decorating contest. The winning door had a bottle of whiskey hanging from it.

    Moral of the story: The signs are there are there if you choose to look for them.

      1. Mona*

        Haha. I can laugh now about it…I worked for an alcoholic. I should have realized I had no chance of winning the contest…

        All kidding aside, workplace dynamics can be so similar to family dynamics. Until you recognize something’s not right or you feel strongly enough that you have been wronged (and in some cases, have gone for professional help to confirm what you’re feeling), you don’t see it.

    1. Super duper anon for this*

      I know a company, like 20 years ago, that used to have a holiday decorating contest by department, and one department thought it was appropriate to do a Christmas-themed/time of year skid row. I think that may have been the last year they had that contest.

      Though, and this is why I’m being ultra anon, my company used to go all in with their own holiday decorating contest by department. My department didn’t participate, but one guy in it thought it would be legit to do an extremely appalling theme. We work in a very sensitive/hot button field, and his idea made a mockery of it all. Fortunately, I came in a bit early that day, saw the “decorations” that he put up and tore them all down. I’m convinced it could have been a Buzzfeed article if pictures were posted on social media, it was so insensitive.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Yeah, but what whiskey? That can be twenty bucks, or two hundred, without even going particularly exotic.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    First of all… “Hummergate” sounds like it’s about something else entirely.

    Second… I am here for Bonus by Karaoke Contest.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      oh man, I’m totally down for that. My “Over the Rainbow” wows the cats every time I take a shower.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Fanfic challenge: Connect Hummer-Gate to the Old-Pyromaniac-Copier Embezzlement Scheme from this morning.

      1. MK*

        Jerk Boss got the Hummer at auction, where it was being sold to cover the repayment in Embezzlement Boss’s settlement.

        1. Meri*

          But, hidden in a secret compartment in the back seat, are the secret plans to build a McGuffin that the boss stole from a grad student and was planning to auction off to the highest bidder. So now, Hummer Winner is being chased by the criminals, who want the plans; the government, who wants the evidence; and the grad student, who just wants their damn grade!

          The Hummer Bummer Summer, coming soon to a theater near you.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “… Challenge accepted!”

      On a workplace sit-com, this scenario would be hilarious. A Christmas Special for the ages.

      1. Dark Macadamia*

        Yes, this would be delightful. I’m picturing a tiny, quiet old lady turning out to be a former poker champion and there’s a scene where all the office bros watch sadly as she screeches out of the parking lot in the Hummer

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Literal LOL!!!!! I would watch this! Huge plus if she’s played by, say, Betty White or Jenifer Lewis.

        2. The Prettiest Curse*

          My late mother-in-law was a sweet old lady who would have absolutely managed to pull off this scenario. She knew how to count cards and was a total card shark.

  5. Roscoe*

    Yeah, this sounds bad, but a lot of bonuses are subjective anyway, so I don’t know that its much worse.

    I left a job over subjective bonuses once. We used to all get a set amount based on how long we had been there. Then the next year, they didn’t tell anyone and just changed it out. Well my bonus was lower than the previous year, but I thought maybe its just that the company grew a lot, so everyone just got the same. No. Turns out the higher ups just basically had a meeting, put people in subjective “tiers” and just decided that Tier A got X amount, Tier B got another, and Tier C got another. Even when I asked what the critieria was, it was shown that there wasn’t really any except feelings.

    I’d rather have the poker game. At least at that point my bonus is in my own hands.

    1. Merci Dee*

      I like that my job does annual bonuses based on job titles. We have a job title scale that’s used throughout the plant, so everyone in the plant is covered by one of the pre-established job titles. Everyone with the same job title gets the same bonus amount, and the amounts step up in increments with each higher job title.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I’d rather have the poker game. At least at that point my bonus is in my own hands.

      No. It’s in the hands of whoever is better at poker than you are.

      In reality, your bonus is never in your own hands. You could double your company’s sales and they could decide to reward you with a $25 gift card to McDonald’s or not reward you at all.

    3. Sea Anemone*

      Even when I asked what the critieria was, it was shown that there wasn’t really any except feelings.

      Frankly, I’m pretty sure every place I’ve ever worked used the same system.

  6. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    What’s the market for a used-used Hummer? Because the odds that the winner actually WANTS this white elephant are so ridiculously low that it would simply get put right back onto craigslist.

    Where was this Hummer sourced? Was it his brother-in-law’s?

    1. NerdyKris*

      Cars in general are white elephants. You have to pay taxes on it as if it’s income, but all the equity is locked in the car, you can’t just pull out $5000 from the car to pay the taxes. So you’re out that money. Then you have an extra car you might not need and might not even have space to store, so you’re dumping it at the first dealer you can find, who is not going to give you the full value of the car. Nobody is keeping a Hummer over literally any other smaller car with better mileage. They’re wildly impractical and don’t even have the value of a truck bed for their size.

      And it’s totally the boss’s previous car.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        In general you’re right, but right now used cars are selling at a premium because the chip shortage has messed up new car production. Gas prices aren’t high enough to choke off guzzler sales, so while it’s *much* less good than cash, fairly distributed per prior discussions, it’s not as bad a bonus as usual right now.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I’d still rather have a normal used car–even a Toyota Prius would be better in terms of “I can sell this easily for a decent price” or replace my 22-year-old gas guzzler. (Well, not THAT bad a guzzler. Pretty similar to, say, a Subaru Outback.)

      2. A.*

        Danny Gonzalez did a really good video on this: “The Problem With Huge Giveaways On YouTube” that went into depth about this issue. I found it really enlightening. He found that at the end of the day, anyone who can’t already afford to buy an expensive car, can’t afford to maintain the car either. It’s better to just give money if you want to give prizes away to anyone other than already-wealthy people.

        1. quill*

          I mean, the reason Wheel of Fortune gives away cars and luxury vacations is that they’re getting bottom dollar rebate on them in exchange for essentially advertising the car / resort. (That and the vacations can come with caveats like “must be used in the off season” and the winner has to pay tax and title on the car.)

          1. MissDisplaced*

            Yes! My friend Won a New Car! on The Price is Right (along with some lamps). Her “free” car was going to cost her close to $8,000 in California tax and title fees, which has to be paid at once.

            And a Hummer? Seriously!
            Who wants s gas guzzler like that except for this DHead boss.

        2. Nobby Nobbs*

          “anyone who can’t already afford to buy an expensive car, can’t afford to maintain the car either.” AKA why my Mommy wouldn’t get me a pony when I was seven!

      3. Marni*

        How hilarious would it be if everyone at the poker tournament was trying their best not to win the car?

    2. Aerin*

      I wouldn’t at all be surprised if they bought the Hummer from a friend/family member who was desperate to get rid of it. Hell, I’d only be a little surprised if this guy “bought” it from himself.

    3. Thursdaysgeek*

      Besides, who wants a hummer that gets 3 miles per gallon? You’d need a sizeable bonus just to pay for gas for that beast.

        1. Betteauroan*

          Anybody else have a problem with posting a comment and the system comes back with “duplicate comment detected”, even though the comments are totally different? This has happened to me several times and is very frustrating.

  7. The Tin man*


    I see two scenarios – (1) finances are not actually tight and that was just a lie to put off LW’s husband and (2) finances are tight but Michael is still prioritizing the “appearance” of financial success by doing things like giving away a Hummer. And part of this is probably my region (New England) but I couldn’t tell you the last time I even SAW a Hummer on the road.

    1. Paris Geller*

      I’m not sure that giving away a *used* hummer is an appearance of financial success though! Brand-new maybe.

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Probably not just your region – the last year the Hummer was made in 2010. And that’s for the H3. Which means we’re looking at a vehicle that’s at least 11 years old – more than that if it’s an H2 or an H1.

      1. code red*

        They’re bringing them back in 2023, but they’ll be electric. Somehow I don’t see people who chose to drive Hummers wanting an electric vehicle.

        1. Mental Lentil*

          You’d be surprised. Ford released an all-electric F-150 and they have orders for about 130,000 of them so far.

          1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

            I bet a lot of those pre-orders are from people who would never consider a Hummer, though. You’ve got the practicality of a truck bed without the terrible gas mileage, and the ability to power your house off the truck’s batteries during a power outage.

            1. code red*

              I agree. Trucks are more practical and an electric truck potentially more so. Hummers were all about a statement. And the people who wanted to make that statement probably aren’t the ones concerned with going electric. I expect them to sell some Hummers, but I would be very surprised if they sell anywhere near the numbers of electric trucks/cars.

            2. Charlotte Lucas*

              Also, I think you can run power tools off those trucks. Great for general contractors, etc. Not usually the Hummer crowd.

              1. Xenia*

                That’s an absolutely genius move, if of limited practicality until the batteries improve more. Truck and generator all in one? As someone doing a remodel where we haven’t gotten power in I would jump at that as a contractor

            3. Recruited Recruiter*

              Agreed. I drive a mini-truck from the 1990s, and will replace it with a mid-size like a Frontier, Tacoma, or Ranger when it dies. The only way I will ever own a full-size is if it is an electric.

          2. JB*

            A pickup truck is a practical vehicle that people buy for a particular purpose.

            Hummers are essentially vanity vehicles that people buy to advertise their political views and to feel ‘cool’.

        2. Please Exit Through The Rear Door*

          Car and Driver had an article on the new electric Hummer this week. It’s going to have 1,000 horsepower (!) and weigh 9,000 pounds, more than double the weight and quadruple the horsepower of an average car. And it looks monstrous. Considering that it can terrorize pretty much everything on the road, on paper at least, I think it will find its audience.

          1. code red*

            This is a good argument. You’re probably right. With that kind of horsepower, they’ll find their market.

      2. The Tin Man*

        Oh my goodness I forgot that they just stopped selling them and missed that it was used. That’s an even worse prize!

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      I’m not into cars, but I couldn’t even describe one. I might if large and ugly would satisfy.

    4. laowai_gaijin*

      Hell, I live in the Midwest where you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting at least three crew cab pickups, and I haven’t seen a Hummer since I moved here.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        I live in the midwest, too, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one in the last decade. Back in the aughts, I saw quite a few, but they seem to be practically nonexistent around here now (which makes sense considering how long ago they stopped making them).

        I hope the new ones don’t catch on. I just googled some pics, and they are truly hideous.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        I live in Silicon Valley and see them semi-regularly. Monthly?

        Then again, tech bros have too much money, don’t care about other people, and have terrible taste.

      3. Sacred Ground*

        Lots of farmers and ranchers where I live. They all drive pickups. SUVs are for the suburbanites. Hummers are purely for posers.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Back when we lived in Cambridge MA we’d occasionally see a hummer trying to negotiate the streets. It did not actually work.

      … And that assumes you just drive it constantly and never attempt to parallel park.

      1. The Tin Man*

        hahaha here I am trying to picture a Hummer trying to navigate the bowels of Cambridge streets

    6. code red*

      One of the parents at my kids’ daycare drives an H2 so I see one fairly regularly now after not having seen them for years.

      1. Worldwalker*

        There’s an H3 wandering around town here. I look on it with pity. It’s a crappy SUV in Hummer’s clothing, with all the negatives and none of the positives of either. I would absolutely take a real Hummer because I have a fondness for weird and impractical vehicles (although I drive an elderly Honda Civic) but I wouldn’t take an H2 or H3 on a bet.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I would still be driving my 1991 Honda Civic HB 4-speed manual if some jerk hadn’t rear ended me when it was only 10 years old with only 175K on it.

    7. Student*

      My imaginary explanation for this is ridiculous compensation scheme is that there is/was a body in the trunk of the “used” Hummer and they need to get rid of the evidence.

      They figure this… poke bonus allocation… will launder the Hummer (company buys from secret hit-man, then gives it to unsuspecting poker-loving employee, who immediately sells it to unsuspecting stranger) so that the cops probably never track it down, and create plausible deniability if the cops do manage to track it down.

    8. OP*

      What actually happened, to be vague, is finances were tight, until about a month ago when my husband and his employees brought in thousands of dollars for the company. Michael then proceeded to splurge it all out. It’s bad news bears.

        1. MissBaudelaire*

          Hope they didn’t use Coin Star!

          I guess if you have to go the laundrymat you’re set for awhile.

      1. Per My Last*

        I really cannot wait for an eventual update. OP, come back to us in a year to tell us how it all went down!

  8. AnonInCanada*

    Yes, this does sound like crappy way to give out bonuses. Whatever happened to giving them out based on performance, or given out equally? And besides, my back would give out carrying out all those quarters home if this is how it was done here. Not that I would condone such behaviour, but I’ve been around a poker table or two in my time. :-[)

    1. Worldwalker*

      It’s not that bad. I used to run a video game arcade (let’s not think about how long ago that was) and filling our front change machine took $2000 in quarters. Two bags of quarters (each one holds $500 worth) in each hand — I think they’re only around 25 pounds each. And I am not a macho she-woman by any means.

      1. pancakes*

        Unavoidable in an arcade, but I wouldn’t assume this guy’s business also deals with a lot of quarters and has no chance to change them into something more manageable before the annual party.

  9. GrooveBat*

    Gambling addiction is a real thing. It seems to me that this could be just as problematic as forcing an alcoholic to do shots to determine their bonus.

    1. A Library Person*

      This is a very important point. I’d assume that an alcoholic in your scenario would have a complaint under the Americans with Disability Act, but as far as I can tell a gambling addiction would not have the same legal protection. Still, the comparison is apt and highlights yet another way this is a terrible policy.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        Apparently, gambling addition is explicitly excluded for ADA protection in the statute. There are those who feel that should be changed based on the evolving view of it, but it doesn’t seem to have happened yet.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          There should be an exception for things like “Employer wants people to gamble as part of a job that normally has nothing to do with gambling.” It’s not a slot machine company, after all. (Fun fact: they manufactured video slot/poker machines in the other side of the building at my first job.)

    2. Betteauroan*

      Didn’t think about it that way, but that’s true. Regardless, this bonus distribution strategy was a terrible idea and he should never have done it that way. If he had people’s respect before, I’m sure he lost a lot of it that night.

  10. Mellie Bellie*

    Wow. Just…wow.

    The only response to “I blew all the bonus and raise money on a used Hummer that all my employees can fight over for my entertainment!” is to run, not walk, away from what has to be a dumpster fire of a job in other ways.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      That’s what I don’t like. Was the poker game not good enough because multiple people could still win / get some kind of bonus? Next year will they have to profess their devotion to the boss and company followed by just getting in a fistfight over who gets the bonus?

    2. OP*

      I feel you. I am itching for the day my husband doesn’t work for this company. However, he has nearly zero oversight, and is taking some tests to get certified. It’s a very flexible workplace, but man. It’s a high cost.

      1. Betteauroan*

        I feel for you and your husband. This is not a good company and his boss is an atrocity of a human being. I hope he finds a better job where he is treated with respect and dignity and his skills and accomplishments are rewarded with fair and equitable bonuses.

  11. A Library Person*

    This strikes me as being somewhat similar to using golf outings to conduct business deals: while women certainly can be as proficient at poker as men, the social dynamics of poker are weighted very heavily toward men (at least in the US). Would this qualify legally as gender-based discrimination? Probably not, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this company has massive gender equality/equity issues elsewhere.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      This strikes me as being somewhat similar to using golf outings to conduct business deals: while women certainly can be as proficient at poker as men, the social dynamics of poker are weighted very heavily toward men (at least in the US). Would this qualify legally as gender-based discrimination? Probably not, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this company has massive gender equality/equity issues elsewhere.

      Ableist, too. So much of the poker metagame is reading body language and intuition that I’d suspect neuroatypical individuals to be at an additional unfair disadvantage.

      1. JB*

        Real people aren’t actually poker meta-gaming, though. That’s pretty much exclusively people who play professional poker and people who wished they played professional poker. I’m autistic and faceblind and have absolutely no way to find people’s ‘tells’ and I’m quite good when playing against a normal person.

        I wonder what they’d do, though, if someone started counting cards.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Yeah, as a fellow autistic I was wondering about that. I’m also faceblind, but I automatically count cards in my head. It’s not even intentional, I just… kind of do it. It drives my dad up the wall, and if he can’t figure out how to make my brain stop doing it, I don’t think a bunch of my coworkers in a poker game for our bonuses are going to be able to get me to stop without kicking me out!

            1. KoiFeeder*

              I can’t recognize faces. I’m not 100% face blind, I can differentiate by hair and noses (I don’t get it either, thanks brain), but because my brain simply doesn’t remember the rest of the face, the sort of microexpressions typically involved in tells (and honestly most facial expressions in general) are lost on me.

            2. Ariaflame*

              Some people have difficulty in recognising people by their faces. They can’t match the face to their knowledge of ‘that’s Fergus’ or whoever. Technical term is Prosopagnosia. I don’t have it I don’t think but I still can’t memorise new faces fast.

              A friend of mine who has it (who is an artist) couldn’t recognise her husband after he shaved his beard off.

            3. Free now (and forever)*

              Prosopagnosia or face blindness is a cognitive disorder of face perception in which the ability to recognize familiar faces is impaired.

            4. Blinded by the Face*

              Face Blind means never looking at people in the grocery store, so you don’t insult people you work with daily by not recognizing them. Not “I know them, I just don’t know from where,” but literally a brain that does not recognize people. It’s not fun.

          1. learnedthehardway*

            I am related to someone who can do this, and while they can’t read the room, they can calculate the odds. They almost invariably win card games as result.

          2. Recruited Recruiter*

            I count cards without thinking as well. Most people won’t play games with me. Spouse has come to the conclusion that I will always win at games, and is okay with that.

        2. Corey*

          > I wonder what they’d do, though, if someone started counting cards.

          Counting cards is a blackjack strategy. A poker deck is shuffled (the count is reset) every hand.

          And really, the concept of a poker face comes from Hollywood’s portrayal of the game. Most tells are non-physical, such as bet sizing. At least that’s the case for a generation of players who started online.

    2. Aerin*

      I would also wonder if this might disadvantage people with certain disabilities (like blindness or autism). Definitely sounds like a discrimination lawsuit waiting to happen.

      1. Speaks to Dragonflies*

        And people like myself who dont have a clue how to even PLAY poker…I wouldnt know if I had won or lost.

    3. ceiswyn*

      Not just in the US.

      At a previous place I worked, it was traditional for the technical staff (all male) to all play poker together after company events. The admin staff (all female) would peel off and sit around chatting instead. I was their first hire on the technical side who was a woman; I had no issue with this, and got on great with the team. And yet, come the first company event, when the split came, everybody assumed that I’d go and chat with the admin staff, who I barely knew.

      The tech guys were happy to make space for me when I indicated that I’d much rather play poker with my work-friends, thanks. Later in my career they also invited me to a couple of games outside work. But the initial assumption, on both sides, was very much that women don’t play poker.

  12. Covid Cassandra*

    “I’m betting it hasn’t been great”, says Alison.

    yes, I’ll “wager” there are a lot of other ways this place has a “chancy” work atmosphere. Time for your husband to cash in his chips?

  13. El l*

    Even as someone who’s good at poker, I think it’s crazy that it’s the chosen criterion for my compensation.

    I think there’s a concrete message sent by this:

    Your employer(s) don’t realize that bonuses are make-or-break for many people. It may not be big money to the manager, but it’s big money to his employees. To throw the bonus pool around via this arbitrarily-random method is…incredibly dumb. If they don’t care about this, there’s probably a lot more essential things they don’t care about. Yeah, go.

    1. OP*

      Yup. All true.

      As an update, there was no $200 minimum payout this year. My husband got $40 and some gift cards. Other people fared worse. Then yes-man got 6k, though!

      1. JustaTech*


        Is the boss going to be all surprised when morale falls through the floor?

        Good grief.

      2. AnonInCanada*

        Wow. Just. Wow. I think hubby needs a new job, and a Glassdoor review on Solid Gold Humvee Boss.

  14. Alda*

    This is sort of off-topic but I’m just delighted that two of three suggested posts at the bottom are about showing your emotions on your face. I’m guessing they both contain the phrase “poker face”.

  15. Precious Wentletrap*

    Take sack of quarters, use it to beat snot out of Michael, distribute evidence fairly amongst yourselves, problem solved

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Decades of tabletop gamers would suggest a Crown Royal bag as both sturdy and high-capacity.

      2. laowai_gaijin*

        Yeah, and besides, socks are much easier to swing. You can get in more hits with a sock than with a sack.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          It’s also . . . tradition. (Though to be truly traditional, one would use a bar of soap instead of quarters, but quarters fit the scenario too perfectly.)

    1. Caaan Do!*

      I’ve been rewatching The Wire recently. I can totally see Omar doing this (although not to Michael in the show)

    2. FD*

      As someone who has actually had to take $1,000 of quarters to the bank, that number of quarters will fill a small garbage can (the small garbage can that you get for your office). It is definitely a legitimate legendary weapon if you could contain it in something you could hit someone with. Be pretty heavy to swing though!

  16. CBB*

    Better Business Bureau is not the official rule-enforcement agency that some people think it is. I’m not sure where you would “report” this, but the BBB probably isn’t it.

    1. Rayray*

      Exactly what I came here to say. They’re literally no different than yelp, they’ve just been around longer.

        1. Rayray*

          hahaha. I love it, our comments were only minutes apart too so neither of us would have seen the other :)

    2. Worldwalker*


      The Better Business Bureau is nothing but an early form of Yelp. Except fewer people even pay attention to it.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I am furious that I went to apply for a grant or government contracting database or something and it was restricted to members of the BBB. Unlike Yelp, businesses in my area have to pay like $500/year in fees to be listed.


        I have one very positive Yelp review (by a Yelp employee who contracted me for company gifts) and 287 Etsy reviews with a 5-star average. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dispute filed against me on Etsy.

  17. Paris Geller*

    Welp here’s another weird workplace letter this year.
    The only way this could be more eye-rolling if the bonuses were cash physically tied to the turtles all employees had to take care of in a no-humor workplace.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      Whoever gives up their liver can have the Hummer. Loser gets cursed by a witch and must take home a potted plant that someone peed in.

          1. CaliUKexpat*

            OT, but thank you for hyphenating that. When people don’t, my brain keeps reading it as “cheap ass-rolls” which, while a hilarious mental image, really changes the tone of the comment!

            1. IndustriousLabRat*

              There is in fact a Reddit bot that re-hyphenates any phrase containing adjective-ass-noun to exactly what you just described, and the results are, unsurprisingly, hilarious.

  18. mskyle*

    Reminds me of the way bonuses were distributed at the fish market where I worked summers and holidays while I was in college! We went bowling after the holiday rush (Christmas and New Year’s are big seafood holidays). There were prizes for the top three scorers (or something like that), a prize for getting the first strike (which I won to the tune of I think $200, much to my and everyone else’s surprise) and the owner would announce assorted prizes and challenges as we went, stuff like “Eric, I’ll give you 50 bucks if you take out that 7 pin,” so he was at least kind of distributing the money to the people who he thought deserved it.

    Anyway, it was fun when I was 19 and I was beyond delighted to get that $200. I don’t think I’ve bowled a strike since.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      “(Christmas and New Year’s are big seafood holidays)”

      They are? Seriously? I have never thought of them that way. Are we talking shellfish, or fish fish? I guess I can sort of see shellfish, as a treat for people who don’t eat it often.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Nor have I, but I would imagine it would be more of a coastal thing. I certainly wouldn’t mind having lobster on New Year’s Eve!

      2. Precious Wentletrap*

        Both. If you’re from an Italian-American background, you may do a Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve and have seven seafood dishes. Used to be this was a strict no-meat fast holiday for Catholics, who would permit seafood, so the tradition stuck and you’ll find fish on the table at a lot of Catholic homes that night.

        NYE everyone goes bananas for shrimp cocktail.

        1. Worldwalker*

          There isn’t much meat on a precious wentletrap, thankfully. Though I suppose with enough you could make a chowder.

          Trivia: Before their habitat was discovered and they became common, imitations made of rice paste were sold to gullible tourists. Now the real shells are cheap, but the imitation ones are rare and valuable antiques.

      3. Despachito*

        Where I am from this is definitely a thing. Live fish are traditionally sold on the streets, and I can very well imagine salespeople exhausted afterwards.

      4. WantonSeedStitch*

        In areas with a large Italian-American population, it’s very common to see a big rush on seafood (both fin fish and shellfish) at Christmas, because of the tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. I am not Italian-American, but as a seafood lover, getting invited to this event at a friend’s house once was pretty awesome.

      5. Caaan Do!*

        I know a lot of replies has mentioned Italian traditions, I would say Spanish traditions are the same – My sister has lived in Spain for 22 years and is married to a Spanish man. They do tend to do shellfish for christmas eve and new years.

        1. Caaan Do!*

          ah, I googled the Feast of the Seven Fishes and saw it’s specifically Italian-American, so I should probably say that Spanish traditions are similar, not the same. My brother in law’s family do tend to do shellfish on those days but most likely not for the same reasons.

      6. JB*

        Don’t be silly. Italian christmas dinner is all fish, and a ton of the appetizers people enjoy on New Years are shellfish (shrimp, calamari, oysters).

      7. londonedit*

        I never would have considered them as such (in the UK it’s traditionally turkey for Christmas Day and ham on Boxing Day) but I now have Finnish family and their big celebration is Christmas Eve, when you have smoked salmon and gravadlax and pickled/cured herrings (along with a ham and potatoes and salads and casseroles – is there any wonder we’ve embraced it with gusto as part of our family Christmas? Another day of eating and drinking? Bring it on!)

      8. Really?*

        Just say other cultures don’t exist besides midwestern white, which we are entirely tired of, and go.

      9. Free now (and forever)*

        I’m Jewish and I know about the custom of the Feast of Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve (Italian). Poles have a Feast of 12 Dishes on Christmas Eve, but only three of them are fish (herring, Jewish-style carp and Christmas Eve carp).

    2. Lizy*

      See I kinda did that one year. We went bowling and there were various prizes and the one who won got to pick first. But they were all fairly equal in value (like $15-20) and they were pretty “bland” (I think one was like a bunch of fancy hot chocolate mix). And – none of them were actually bonuses. It was just,.. a holiday party treat.

  19. Spicy Tuna*

    The winner would be responsible for determining the taxes on the Hummer as well (versus payroll automatically deducting from a bonus check). No thanks!

    1. Anonymouse*

      If you win the Hummer, register it in the boss’s name.
      Don’t tell the boss.
      The boss will have to deal with the DMV.
      And the gift winnings have to be reported by the boss to the IRS.

      Other suggestions,
      Bring in a ringer to the poker game.

  20. Roja*

    You know, just as soon as I think I’ve read the weirdest thing I can possibly read on here, something else comes up and tops it. There is truly no end to the limits of human strangeness…

      1. DarthVelma*

        My partner and I were discussing this last night – that the motto for the human race might as well be “hold my beer”.

        Seriously, at any given time a third of the population is saying “hold my beer”, another third is saying “oh good grief”, and the final third is recording it with their phone.

  21. Meep*

    On one hand, I love how diabolical this is. On the other, this only works if you are a villain in some holiday movie about corporate greed.

    1. A Library Person*

      I could see this working with the Muppets in their most recent film iteration. (The jury’s still out on where they’re headed now.)

  22. PJS*

    It doesn’t sound like it’s the case here, but there could also be legal issues if bonuses are based on pay. My company gives out bonuses that are a percentage of your pay over the past year. The longer you’ve been here, the higher your percentage. We got in trouble years ago because we were only using base pay. Apparently, the law (not sure if state or federal) says we have to use all pay in the bonus calculation and huge back payments were paid out one year for all the overtime, shift differential, and other premium pay that had been excluded in prior years.

    1. anonymous73*

      If there is a law for bonuses, I’m guessing it’s state based. I’ve worked professionally for 25 years and only gotten a bonus a handful of times and only in one job was it based on my salary. My offer letter stated “up to 10%”. Got that my first year, and it decreased every year after that.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, definitely not federal law. I’d be surprised if it’s a state law either; more likely something about the way their pay agreements were written that had to be adhered to.

    2. pancakes*

      If this is the same case I was able to pull up with a quick search just now, the legal issue wasn’t exactly the bonus calculation, it was not including the bonus in the overtime true-up. It’s a FLSA issue.

      1. PJS*

        Ours wasn’t publicized. I’m guessing an employee complained and our lawyers got involved, but it was all internal.

        1. pancakes*

          I wouldn’t consider analysis of the legal issue on a law firm website or in a white paper publicity, but I’m sure there are numerous companies that have faced the same issue, both with and without lawyers noticing.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t understand, do you mean that they have to include the previous year’s bonus payout in the current year bonus calculation? That doesn’t make any sense. Is bonus = percentage of base pay not pretty standard? That’s certainly how mine works, though that is the “target” amount and then it can increase or decrease based on other factors like how well the company did and how well your team did and your annual review score. They are very clear on what goes into the calculation and send emails throughout the year about how our quarterly results impact the final amount.

      But it’s all still calculated on the base pay and I’m confused about why that would ever not be appropriate. It seems like if anything that’s the most transparent way to do it! Any moreso I’m not clear why anyone outside the company would even care about that?

  23. CatCat*

    If husband is still there at the time of the Christmas party, I want to know how that party goes down. Because I could see a lot of people (most people? everyone?) not wanting to try and win that prize. And one wonders if boss’s goal here is to win that absurd Hummer for himself since he didn’t have to use personal funds to acquire it.

    1. ChemistryChick*

      If I could prove that to be the boss’ goal, I’d be tempted to win it then turn around and sell it.

    2. pancakes*

      I think the boss’s goal here is to make a monstrous display of his power over other people’s income. Maybe not a conscious goal, but whatever.

  24. Czhorat*

    Whether it’s legal or not, it’s the kind of powertrip that says somethign terrible about the boss. Literally making a game out of income of people who certainly earn less than you is cruel.

    There’s no good reason for this, and you’ll not only end up with people who feel slighted because they “lost” the poker game, but it creates a sense that compensation is completely arbitrary.

    I’d be polishing my resume.

    1. Despachito*

      It seems to me like a weird gladiator game.

      Letting people fight over a prize for my entertainment… money which should be distributed to them according to their WORK achievements. WTF? What will be next, fighting in the mud?

      I find it deeply humiliating to treat people like that. (I wouldn’t if there was a Christmas poker contest with decent prizes ON TOP of the bonuses, not INSTEAD of them. Holy moly! )

      1. Czhorat*

        It also highlights the bad thing about bonuses – they are, in many corporations, a zero sum game. There’s so much bonus pool to divide around so many employee, so giving extra to one means giving less to someone else. That’s just the way it is.

        Making them literally compete for it turns if from an unfortunate effect of leaning SO heavily on this that it turns from an unfortunate sharing of a fixed-size pie right to hunger games.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I agree. The boss is on a power trip and I would not be surprised if he had other tendencies toward the psychopathic. He is literally turning people’s incomes into a game of chance.

      Well done, capitalism.

  25. Retired Lady*

    I live in an apartment with a coin operated washer and dryer. I would LOVE to have all those quarters!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I am sketching a fanfic in which, while the employees try to dodge any shot at winning a used hummer and the $5000 in taxes they will need to immediately pay, Retired Lady is scooting around on one of those covered carts snarfing up all the quarters. In the end she makes her escape, the employees declare that none of them have any quarters so they definitely didn’t win the hummer, and …. the manager has to go watch a bunch of third-tier meaning-of-Christmas movies until he sees the light.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Hallmark runs Christmas movies 24/7 starting before Halloween.
        This needs to be running on the boss’s computer and every TV in the office.

    2. NoThanksRiskyBusiness*

      You just reminded me that the coin shortage was already happening last year. That makes this even more bananas.

  26. Beth*

    I’m not sure if this boss is worse than my ex-bosses in the Terrible Bonus Scheme Challenge, but he’s certainly in the running.

  27. The Smiling Pug*

    Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this before. You know, it’s never a bad time to polish up your resume…

  28. ChemistryChick*


    Ugh. Your husband’s boss is a jerk and isn’t going to change. If he can get out, he should.

  29. Bilateralrope*

    I wonder if there is any news organization that would like to know about this scheme. Make sure to keep yourself anonymous if you arrange for that to happen.

  30. anonymous73*

    Every time I read a letter and think “this has got to be the most insane thing I’ve read on here”, Alison tops it with another one. I know some people look for bonuses as part of their annual pay, and maybe in some jobs that’s standard. But I have only ever gotten bonuses sporadically and never count on them. They’re more of a “nice to have”. If it were me, I’d have turned around and walked out. Regardless of legality, to me that’s the biggest F you Michael could have given his staff. I would have refused to participate and polished off my resume immediately.

  31. Michael*

    My brother used to work for a software company. One year the boss used a videogame version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? to make everybody ‘win’ their Christmas bonus (all the values were divided by 1000, so if you answered the £1m question correctly, you’d get £1k).
    It backfired because the videogame questions were much easier than the ones used in the actual show. It was a small company and the bonuses were being paid directly from the boss’ pocket so it cost him a small fortune.

  32. Just Another Zebra*

    Unrelated, but I read this and went “who’s thinking about EOY bonuses already?!” And then I remembered it’s October, so EOY isn’t that far away.

    This would be a great way to make all my coworkers hate me – my grandfather was a pro poker player, and I worked in Atlantic City casinos through college. I’m more-than-decent at most card games, so I’d end up like OP’s husband – big bonus and salty coworkers.

    I think this COULD be fine, if everyone was given their normal, earned bonuses, and then had a smaller tourney for some extra goodies. Like top prize is $100 gift card to a restaurant or something, not a Hummer (?!) OP, if Alison is correct and this is a symptom of a larger disfunctional workplace, there’s a ton of jobs out there right now.

    1. WantonSeedStitc*

      Yeah, I was thinking that too: a poker tournament as part of the holiday party where you play for chips but the big winners get to take home fun prizes like modest gift cards or something would be fun. But making that how you get a bonus? No. This boss is gambling with employee retention.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        I’ve seen that at parties – you could exchange whatever chips you won for raffle tickets, and have the opportunity to win prizes at the end of the night. If you didn’t want to gamble, you could trade your starting chips immediately for raffle tickets instead. And it wasn’t just poker at these parties – the theme was something like “Monte Carlo night”, so there would also be roulette and (I think) blackjack tables.

        Bonuses were handled separately from anything at the party.

        1. Czhorat*

          A prize as in a golf shirt or a water bottle is fine. Even a gift certificate for a local restaurant isn’t unreasonable.

          Once the value gets above a certain amount it starts feeling as if there are winners and losers and gets a tiny bit ugly.

  33. It's Growing!*

    This was Christmas of 2020? And this was an in-office event? Was the bonus Christmas gift a nice case of COVID to share with your family?

    1. Caaan Do!*

      But the high stakes winner gets £1000 to spend on hand wipes, sanitiser and paracetamol/ibuprofen. They’ll be good christmas presents for the family right? With cash to spare! Win win! /s

  34. Gracely*

    I’m wondering where the used Hummer came from. Does Michael happen to have a friend or family member who needed to sell their Hummer? Or possibly who works at a dealership? Because that’s where I’d be looking into this as far as legality goes. “I used everyone’s bonus $$ to pay off my brother’s Hummer he could no longer afford” is certainly a possibility.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      The puzzling part is there’s a shortage of new cars right now so used prices are through the roof. Even a 10 year old Hummer with crap mpg, if it runs well (which I guess is a landmine since it’s a Hummer…but I digress), would be very easy to sell right now. Any car is easy to sell right now. There’s no good reason a friend or family member would need to sell it to him to quickly get rid of it or anything.

  35. CBB*

    Out of curiosity, do most people know how to play poker?

    It’s not a game I grew up with and I have only a vague idea of how it works. If I was expected to play poker at a work function, that would be like expecting me to compete in a juggling contest.

    1. Czhorat*

      Off topic, but you should learn how to juggle! Juggling is awesome!!

      I miss helping teach random tourists how to juggle. Most don’t learn well enough that they’d win a contest in the office, but I could make you a juggler in probably forty minutes or so.

      1. Worldwalker*

        I tried to learn to juggle once. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for my surroundings.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      I have a very, very vague concept, but would not be comfortable playing at all.

      Euchre, though…

    3. TiffIf*

      Also–isn’t poker an entire family of card games? Not just a single game? I learned a long time ago how to play Texas Hold ‘Em but don’t remember anything about how to play now.

      1. Nanani*

        Correct. There are many many varieties, some more luck-heavy and some more strategy heavy.
        (or rather, all of them involve luck to a significant extent but like, some varieties have more room for decision making or trying to bluff or what have you)

    4. CaliUKexpat*

      This would be my concern too: no idea how to play! My husband’s coworkers tried to teach me once, and I thought it was the most boring game on the face of the planet. I folded in less than an hour just so I wouldn’t have to play anymore. Can’t remember a single rule anymore.

  36. MissLibby*

    I fell like this could be an episode of The Office. Does your spouse work for Dunder Mifflin?

    1. OP*

      That’s why I named the boss Michael!

      I think when most people watch the office, they go, “That’s stupid.” And cringe.

      My husband’s boss watches the office and thinks, “That’s actually a great idea!”

    2. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

      I know I’m a day late, but I just have to share this: my very small fully-remote work team has a social meeting every friday afternoon and we’ve taken to playing trivia games. And I got a question right because I read AAM! I don’t remember the exact question but the answer was “Dunder Mifflin” and the ONLY reason I knew that answer was from reading this blog. (Ooh, and this reminds me that I promised to find the trivia questions this week, so thank you for helping me remember!)

  37. Sparkles McFadden*

    I don’t know what to do with this letter. My brain just keeps thinking “This is messed up.”

    1. TransmascJourno*

      I keep hearing Ice-T saying “that’s messed up” on repeat since I read this letter.

  38. wine dude*

    Poker rules (or at least poker etiquette) dictate that a player may leave the table at any time (between hands) with the stack in front of them. Just sayin’

    1. JB*

      True, but in that case you’re still leaving with the amount of your bonus…in quarters. Which is kind of insane.

  39. RTG123*

    Would there be grounds for any pushback based on the likelihood this would adversely impact someone with a gambling addiction?

  40. Absurda*

    Does the boss also say the company is a family?

    To me, this seems like the sort of thing that happens when employers start to think of jobs as gifts they give their employees rather than a mutually beneficial business arrangement.

    Would he make suppliers play poker to see who wins a contract? Would he ask his customers to play poker to determine who gets the best price or delivery date?

    Bonuses are to reward employees for going above and beyond, doing their job very well or to recognize their contributions to the company. They are not a game or source for amusement.

  41. Caaan Do!*

    Well, this is one of those stories where I widened my eyes and said ‘wut?!’ to myself before even reading.

    I know we’re quick to jump to ‘start job searching’ sometimes but this is insane. Huge amounts of money in quarters? Prizes that don’t appeal to a wide audience – for me personally I would love some new video games but I’m a gamer so I’d probably have them already, and I don’t drive so a car would be useless. I imagine there’s a lot of people in the company who wouldn’t like one or other or either. And let’s face it, there is an enduring perception that gaming and cars are male pursuits (although I’m cisfemale and grew up in the 80s/90s when we were a rare sight in gaming, so this may be colouring my perception), which adds a whole other level of hmmmm there.

    And then the final insult is there’s no money for earned and promised bonuses BECAUSE of these batshit poker games? No. Unless there are other things that are worth it to your husband to stay, I’d say run, don’t walk out of there.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      A thousand bucks in quarters. That’s 100 rolls of quarters. Michael planned this out well in advance. You can’t just walk into a bank these days and get that many quarters. They just don’t carry that much cash any more.

      1. Caaan Do!*

        Wow, I’m UK based so I didn’t even realise the scale of how much a thousand dollars is in quarters. That makes this even more batshit. And for him to make presumably multiple trips to fill his “christmas bonus/prize sack”. Again, wow. I don’t have any better word.

  42. Solitary Daughter*

    Run. Run, and don’t look back. Nothing good can come from prolonged contact with Michael.

  43. Observer*

    It’s a pretty good job market out there right now for a lot of people/places/fields, just saying.

    THIS. 1,000x over.

  44. raincoaster*

    You know, this totally incentivizes skipping working hard on, you know, WORK, and learning poker instead.

  45. aka Duchess*

    How do the other employees feel about the poker games? The hummer?
    Do you think they could all band together and tell ‘Michael” that they won’t be participating in poker games this year? What if all the employees just took their own rolls of quarters and left with out playing?
    If the boss won’t listen to his employees stating they don’t want a 10 year old hummer, never wanted a hummer, and don’t want to take on the financial responsibility of said hummer…… then I would say public shaming is sometimes the best option; I would be making a tip to the local news.

  46. Emily K-F*

    If they’re giving bonuses in cash (quarters) or Hummers it sounds very possible they’re not taking out the appropriate taxes, which could create big headaches for both the employee and employer!

  47. Thursdaysgeek*

    Years ago I was at a company holiday party where we were all handed about $5,000 in fake company cash (with the owner’s pictures on them), and they had a variety of gambling games set up. We could gamble (and eat – food was provided), and at the end of the evening, people could use their cash to bid on various gifts. I discovered rather quickly that gambling is boring and tedious to me, and offered my money to someone else who was trying to increase their pool without gambling. I probably didn’t get a gift, but after the party was over, I was given a stack of fake bills, which have made decent bookmarks over the years. The company had pretty good profit based bonuses, and the party was probably fun for those who liked gambling.

    1. Recruited Recruiter*

      The existence of the profit-based bonuses plus the event intended to be fun for everyone with at least a decent meal, sounds like a pretty decent way to handle this!

  48. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

    If I had this job, I’d spend at least 10-15% of my work hours learning and practicing poker.

    It seems like that’s what the company values highly, as the best poker player gets the biggest bonus. Heck, I’d suggest I put it in as one of my performance targets for the year – ‘study poker X hours per week’. Just to see how far I could push it.

    This boss and workplace sound like there’s a lot going wrong.

    1. Jessica*

      Exactly! No more wasting my weekends on Critical Work Project; I’m going to be doing all the penny-ante online poker playing I can find, so I’m ready to compete in next year’s Hunger Games Bonus action! (Of course, the boss would probably change it to golf.)

  49. I'm just here for the cats*

    This is such a BAD IDEA that I want to scream.

    1. What if someone’s religion prohibits gambling? The boss is putting the company at risk for a religious discrimination suit.
    2. What if someone has a gambling addiction? Does gambling addictions fall into mental health disorders and if it does that could that fall under ADA and discrimination?
    3. What about the taxes and all of the costs associated with the new (used) Hummer? Yes you’d have to pay taxes on a bonus but I’m thinking a car’s taxes would be more (but i could be wrong. I’ve never been given a car). Plus there’s registration, insurance, etc. And what if someone doesn’t drive? Or is disabled and wouldn’t be able to get into the Hummer (aren’t they like huge and high up from the ground). What then?

    I can see where the boss is going here. He wants to have a fun interaction with the team. I think the best thing would be to give out bonus’s based on merit and have a few smaller prizes (cash or other things) that employees can play for. But no one should have to stand alone on their poker skills to get their deserved bonus.

    1. nym*

      There’s taxes for gambling winnings too, at least in my state. I would guess that the line between “taxes on gambling winnings” and “taxes on payroll that was paid in cash without documentation” is something the lawyers would have to decide.

    2. Nanani*

      I might be thinking of the wrong car (I don’t drive either) but aren’t hummers notorious gas-guzzlers? Is everyone paid enough to afford that, even if they are ok with it?
      So. many. issues.

      1. Tiffany Aching's imaginary friend*

        Beyond notorious. I mean, they started as military vehicles, so good mileage was far from an important consideration. They’re like SUV’s on multiple steroids, and to “I’m just here for the cats” yes, you need a stepladder to climb into them.

  50. Strong Independent Acid Snake*

    Your husbands boss would rather spend money on a publicity-stunt type of prize (and part of me wonders if he is trying to gain some media attention from this “You won’t BELIEVE what this Boss bought for his employees Christmas Bonus!!!”) then use that money to compensate employees like your husband who have done amazing work. This says a lot about the priorities of the company.

    I would wager the poker/bonus shenanigan’s are not the only weird thing about this company…if I were your husband I would take advantage of the job market and start looking around.

  51. Texas*

    Yuck at that manager. This sounds increasingly demeaning. Pitting coworker against each other to get quarters based on their ability to play a game, unrelated to their work performance? Anytime letters of managers treating their employees like this come up, I think of the really egregious scenario of the Hooters episode of Undercover Boss where a manager made his (female, scantily clad as per company uniform) eat beans off a plate without their hands in a race to earn the ability to leave early on a slow day (while he watched, and he figured the “new guy” and the entire camera crew would go along with him).

  52. Introvert girl*

    How does this count tax-wise? Is the money you win considered a bonus or are they winning from gambling?

  53. Robin Ellacott*

    Ugh. That is gross and very bro-y.

    That boss sounds like he views the workplace as his personal playground and ego boost, and this must be the tip of the iceberg of grossness.

  54. Freya*

    This would be very problematic here in Australia.

    Firstly, because the bonus scheme was not transparent, and was changed without written consent from the employees. You cannot legally change the remuneration people receive without their written consent (except to their benefit)

    Secondly, because it indirectly impacts people with disabilities. I suck at poker, for a bunch of reasons, mostly connected to disability, which is a protected class. The poker policy doesn’t directly say that disabled people get paid less, but the net effect is that we are, and for no good reason.

    Also, thirdly, the expensive prizes fall into fringe benefits tax area, so there’s a bunch of paperwork you have to do to not get in trouble with the Australian tax office (ATO). Fringe benefits tax is the tax office saying you got paid in goods and services instead of cash, and it’s not a work-related item, so we’re going to tax the employer the amount that the employee would have been taxed were they paid in cash. Below a certain value, the ATO gives an exemption because dealing with the paperwork costs more than they get, so most employers keep their gifts below that value.

      1. Freya*

        Given the value was $300 last time I looked… Yeah, no vehicle is going to fit that category!

  55. ChikkaBOOM*

    This is 100% illegal if there are any Muslim employees. My ex is Muslim and was in a very similar situation and it wound up with lawyers involved.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The law does not prevent employers from doing anything that might be against an employee’s religious beliefs. What it requires is that the person be offered a reasonable accommodation and not be penalized for their beliefs (assuming no undue hardship to the employer).

      It is not illegal to have a company-sponsored gambling activity at work (assuming it doesn’t violate local gaming laws). It would be illegal to penalize a Muslim employee for not partaking, or for their compensation to be affected by their not participating. I’m guessing one of those things happened in your ex’s case.

    2. OP*

      The thing that’s bizarre in this case is the boss’s own religion (and the religion of nearly everyone that works there) prohibits gambling. Unfortunately, my husband and I recently left the predominant church in our area, and have no ground to stand on there.

      1. allathian*

        Woops, that was some buried lede, OP!

        Still, it just goes to show that people vary a lot in how much they follow the precepts of their faith, and that’s a matter best left to each person and their conscience.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think it should be the lede – religious people not following their own religions is bog-standard.

        2. OP*

          Hahaha. Oops.

          I guess because religion permeates everything in my community, it’s become the water I swim in. Something always around so I never notice it.

    3. pancakes*

      In addition to what Alison said, I want to point out that non-lawyers are very often not correct in discerning legally relevant similarities and differences in situations like these, since they have not been trained in spotting legal issues, among other things. In other words, they tend not to have a good handle on what they don’t know. A non-lawyer observing some similarities between two seemingly-similar situations isn’t necessarily going to land on the same key aspects of those situations that a lawyer would.

  56. Caroline Bowman*

    and a LOT of people having gambling problems and are in similar programmes to AA to deal with them. This would be akin to insisting on a drinking game to establish bonus, tough luck to those in recovery!

    This crosses into invading medical privacy and all sorts. What a revolting idea.

  57. Bethie*

    Who knew we were preparing our kiddo to win his future bonus someday :) We are a family of poker players (5 card, blackjack), not for money but for fun at home, and my 10 year old kills it at blackjack. And…it teaches math – at least up to 21 :)

    But legit, that’s insane.

  58. Chickaletta*

    I can’t picture this boss without thinking of wood paneling and a beer belly for some reason.

  59. Problem Gambling Network of Ohio*

    Such bad practices. OP’s partner should start looking for another job ASAP. The market is too hot to put up with those shenanigans.

  60. Chris*

    Ugh! I’d be looking for a new job because the boss has extremely poor judgement. I will say, however, that there are a lot of people who work jobs that never give bonuses. I’d be more miffed about the raise and general poor management than the poker.

  61. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    My Dad taught me how to play ALLLL the games. I never let on until a friendly game of poker with friends after a spaghetti dinner turns into, “Can I pay you Monday.” So, I’d love to be hired at this place. Regrettably that might mean cleaning out the till for others.

    We have a lot of interesting letters on AAM and this is surely one of them. Basing your bonus on a poker game, don’t we really kind of do that every day? Take a gamble on our ideas, our execution, our performance? Lay everything on the table of “hoping I did this to someone’s satisfaction level” whatever that is. If a boss wants you to play poker for your bonus, as the OP says this just pits everyone against each other and without a poker game in the balance, we have that going on every day whether we know it or not, poker game or not.

    Now who’s up for a game of Texas Hold ’em. I’ll deal.

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