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Should I Keep An Undeserved Bonus?

Should I Keep An Undeserved Bonus?

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn.

Q. My boss has decided to give me a big bonus for something I only helped with; another worker deserves it more than I do. But I need the money, and she is pretty well off. What’s the right thing to do?

A. Maybe your contribution was more integral to the success of the project than you realize. But, regardless, you should be forthcoming. Not only does our tradition demand honesty in how we conduct business, but it’s really the most practical professional decision you can make.

You still may get the monetary bonus, plus the additional benefits of a grateful co-worker and big-time brownie points from a boss who’ll admire your integrity and humility.

But were you to accept the payment without comment, every time you pass your colleague at the water cooler you’d wonder if she’s on to you… and has she told the boss?

From this "harmless" little episode – not even an outright lie – could cascade a Had Gadya effect of unintended consequences leading to your ultimate dismissal.

On the other hand, as we play this out, your co-worker could save you at the last minute because she always had a mad crush on you, then you marry and have a kid who makes a bundle in the stock market, buys out your boss and then throws it all away to become a rabbi…. But I digress).

The letters comprising the term for truth, Emet, are the first, last and middle letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Those who embrace the truth can confidently reach out in all directions and build successful working relationships. In contrast, the letters for the word for “lie,” sheker, are huddled together in a corner at the end of the alphabet, looking much like you would look if you played out this ruse, a guilt-burdened employee cowering in a corner behind his desk.

Emet, is repeated seven times, almost mantra-like, in the morning liturgy, just after the Sh’ma. In the evening version of that same prayer, Emet is joined by Emunah: trust. Our prayers are telling us that trust and truth go hand in hand.

But anyone who’s ever worked in an office already knows that.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.
Have an ethical dilemma? Email Rabbi Hammerman at

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