International Law at Work: intranet announcement creates legally enforceable right to bonus promised for bank employees

Making a contract with the whole world is not a legal concept that is intuitively recognised. We tend to think of contracts as binding commitments between two parties, but the law recognises that an offer may be made to the world at large, from which a binding unilateral contract can arise. The recent High Court decision of Daniel John Brader and others v Commerzbank AG [2013] SGHC 284 illustrates how an offer of a bonus made to bank employees amounted to a unilateral contract that was binding on the bank.

Ten former employees (the plaintiffs) of the Singapore branch of Dresdner Bank AG claimed for bonuses offered to incentivise them to stay in the face of potential collapse of the bank’s business. In 2008, the chief executive officer of the bank’s global investment banking division had announced to the bank’s employees via an intranet broadcast that there would be a minimum bonus pool of €400m (£330m). However, a few months later, when the bank sent a letter to its employees, the bonus was stated as provisional and subject to any material deviations in the bank’s financial performance for 2008…

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