Eight companies, including J.C. Penney Co Inc and Hertz Global Holdings Inc, approved bonuses as few as five days before seeking bankruptcy protection.
Hi-Crush Inc, a supplier of sand for oil-and-gas fracking, paid executive bonuses two days before its July 12 filing.
J.C. Penney - forced to temporarily close its 846 department stores and furlough about 78,000 of its 85,000 employees as the pandemic spread - approved nearly $10 million in payouts just before its May 15 filing.
On Wednesday, the company said it would permanently close 152 stores and lay off 1,000 employees.
The company declined to comment for this story but said in an earlier statement that the bonuses aimed to retain a “talented management team” that had made progress on a turnaround before the pandemic.
The other companies declined to comment or did not respond.
In filings, many said economic turmoil had rendered traditional compensation plans obsolete or that executives getting bonuses had forfeited other compensation.
Luxury retailer Neiman Marcus Group in March temporarily closed all of its 67 stores and in April furloughed more than 11,000 employees.
The company paid $4 million in bonuses to Chairman and Chief Executive Geoffroy van Raemdonck in February and more than $4 million to other executives in the weeks before its May 7 bankruptcy filing, court records show.