They admitted they made a mistake in not clearly documenting their policy, which was ambiguous. As part of correcting that mistake, they recompensed an employee who was wronged by the ambiguity. They did this not because they were obligated by a policy or contract, but by ethics.
I think it's debatable whether he was entitled to the bonus, that's why I say they weren't "necessarily" wrong. Obviously Miso felt he was not entitled to it, since under their clarified policy he would not be.
This is not a matter of a simple "ambiguity in policy", is it? This is a contract they made with their employees that failed to specify terms like "the bonus will only be payable while you are an employee of the company".
Miso doesn't get to retroactively apply terms to a contract that has been made. Hence, IMO, they recompensed the employee because they were obligated to by contract.
edit: Two good comments from the blog:
Somrat, Tim: your mistake was not that you were unclear about your policy. Your mistake was failing to follow your policies and agreements in the first place and then trying to apply new policies after the fact. This isn't unclear, it's unethical.
This reply tells everyone that CYA is your sole problem solving skill.
Suppose a company's expense report policy does not clarify whether they will fulfill expenses incurred during employment but filed after resignation. The day after you quit you find an expense receipt you forgot to report. Must the company compensate you? It's ambiguous.
The agreement was fulfilled when the referee completed his 6 months, no? At that point it became a debt that the company owed jzhwu, and he only quit a month after. I don't think debts immediately disappear when you quit a company (unless you sign some sort of agreement to that effect). So by default I'd guess that the debt cannot "vanish on resignation".
> Must the company compensate you? It's ambiguous.
It's probably a problem long settled by the courts and labor regulations, actually. Not ambiguous at all.
I considered this, too. Obviously I agree that, if it were a debt, then he is entitled to it, and that the debt cannot disappear.
But what if it's not a debt? I think that the debt exists if the creditor makes a claim. Perhaps by not asking for his bonus, the employee lost his opportunity to make a claim, and cannot make a claim after resigning.
Your suggest he claim the debt at any time. How long is he allowed he wait? 10 years? 100 years?
All I'm asking is that you see how this could be argued either way! Obviously a court (or case law) would decide one way or another, but until that point it is ambiguous.
That would depend in the terms specified in the contract. If the entirety of the contract is the email message which says "We'll pay 10K for a referral that lasts 6 months", then it defaults to the contract laws in their state. I can guarantee that the contract laws of their state do not say "debts owed to employees are void after employment is terminated."
> How long is he allowed he wait? 10 years? 100 years?
Most, probably all, states also have a law defining what the limit on collecting a debt is. It usually falls between 3 and 6 years, and is considerably longer in a few.
The CEO's comment here makes me think that this was indeed a contract, so Miso would have had no leg to stand on in a court.
Although it is usually impossible to predict the outcome of a vaguely-defined case (I hit and killed you with my car, am I liable?), a case where all relevant facts are known (I hit and killed you with my car while you were legally crossing at a crosswalk, my light was red, and I was speeding) is utterly unambiguous, but will still end up in court if one side refuses to settle, no matter why they refuse.
Remember that incident with Airbnb where a woman's house was trashed? I'm sure Airbnb had all the proper fine print to prevent them from liability, but they still went out of their way to make sure the woman was properly compensated. I'm sure Airbnb was never at fault here, but they were able to turn a case of bad press into good press.
The Miso founder simply took a case of bad press, and turned into worse press.
They were uncontrovertibly wrong to not pay him, because they've lost 10-100x $10k in goodwill, recruiting capability, etc. If they really wanted to be strict and avoid establishing a precedent, they could have just given him an extra $10k bonus for severance vs. $10k for the referral amount; I doubt he cares what the memo line of the check says.