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Salesman wins $185k 'nest egg' battle

An Auckland clothing firm has been ordered to pay one of its salesmen $185,145 in unpaid bonuses because of an ambiguously worded contract.

The Employment Relations Authority (ERA), in a decision released on Wednesday, has found in favour of sales and marketing manager Grant Thompson, who said his employer, 88 C-Force Textile Industries, owed him at least $200,000 in unpaid bonuses for the three-year period from 2008.

Mr Thompson started work for the Mt Wellington-based company in 1999 on a basic salary of $30,000 plus bonuses.

His contract wording did not specifically spell out if his bonus would be based on his personal sales or company sales above $2 million a year, but between 2001 and 2005 they were based on total company sales - despite others contributing to the sales.

In 2005, Mr Thompson's contract was renegotiated and his salary rose to $130,000.

Over the next three years he was paid more $266,000 in bonuses, before in 2008 the company accountant noticed and they were stopped.

However, it took three years for him to complain to the ERA.

When he did, C-Force responded by saying he shouldn't be paid anything because he said nothing at the time, and that he should pay back the $266,000.

In her decision, ERA member Rachel Larmer rejected that argument, and said the context of Mr Thompson's contract needed to be looked at.

"This history shows that C-Force was happy to financially reward Mr Thompson via his bonus structure for sales he had nothing to do with."

However, she refused to award him more money, such as interest, because he failed to raised the stopped bonuses, which he had described as "an accruing nest egg".

That was contrary to his obligation to act in good faith towards the company, she said.