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Microsoft The Almighty Buck News

Microsoft Asks For a Refund From Laid-Off Workers [updated] 424

An anonymous reader writes "The large print giveth, the small print taketh away. Microsoft, which recently laid off 1400 employees, is now claiming that some of those lucky schmoes were inadvertently overpaid on their severance package. A letter from the company, which was subsequently circulated on the internet, states: 'We ask that you repay the overpayment and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to you.' Microsoft has confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but it's not known what the amounts in question are, or how many of the 1400 were affected." Update: 02/24 14:00 GMT by T : VinylRecords writes "Well, now Microsoft has recanted, saying that the situation has resulted in unfortunate amounts of bad press and public relations. 'This was a mistake on our part,' said a Microsoft spokesman in an e-mailed statement. 'We should have handled this situation in a more thoughtful manner.'"
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Microsoft Asks For a Refund From Laid-Off Workers [updated]

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  • by Gizzmonic ( 412910 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @07:51PM (#26952595) Homepage Journal

    What if they agree to use their severance to buy Vista: Ultimate Edition?

  • by Ostracus ( 1354233 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @07:53PM (#26952607) Journal

    "A letter from the company, which was subsequently circulated on the internet, states: 'We ask that you repay the overpayment and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to you.' Microsoft has confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but it's not known what the amounts in question are, or how many of the 1400 were affected."

    How's that any different than when the government overpays you?

    • by Bieeanda ( 961632 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @07:58PM (#26952637)
      It depends on where the math got fucked up. If MS signed off on papers that promised the inflated amount, it's SOL. That would explain why they're asking for it, rather than sending legal demands.
      • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:11PM (#26952749)

        That's one of the reasons. If the overpayment is small enough, it wouldn't be worth the bad PR to sue their former workers. They also have a poor chance of winning in a trial by jury- people are going to be biased for the workers. Besides, asking for the money politely doesn't stop them from filing legal proceedings later- in fact, judges prefer you to try to fix issues before filing papers.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Gorobei ( 127755 )

        Well, they're probably SOL regardless (unless the sum involved was absurd.) They chose to terminate the employee, they chose the terms, they asked for a promise to not sue (for overtime, unused vacation, discrimination, etc) in exchange for some cash. They paid, and now think they paid the wrong amount: good luck winning this one in court.

        • by grommit ( 97148 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:24PM (#26952849)

          They probably won't need luck if the following happened. Paperwork is drawn up stating that the terminated employee gets paid $2,000. Supervisor and employee sign off on that sum. Retard typing in the info for the check keys in $20,000 instead of $2,000.

          The employee can't possibly think that he/she actually deserves the extra $18,000 after agreeing to the original sum.

          • by Gorobei ( 127755 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:43PM (#26952993)

            As I said, "absurd" numbers are easy to fix, but even $18K is tough to clawback from, for example, an employee with a five year work history. Heck, when I quit my last job, a nice lady from HR emailed me asking about unused vacation days: I picked a number, and it was close to $18K pre-tax.

            Dollar numbers seem so important in entry level positions, but, at the higher levels, $BIGNUM amounts are used to smooth over the issues that arise in terminations.

          • If the paperwork and payment match, then MS probably will have to eat the loss, but as you say, if the paperwork and payment are different, then it's in the ex-employee's best interest to pay back the overage with no fuss.

          • by fermion ( 181285 )
            So we think that MS is so backwards that a human typed the lettered, or entered data in a form letter. For 1400 employees. We don't think that these letters were generated using, for instance, a datbase query that picked all employees terminated on a certain day, subtracted the hire data to the current date, multiplied by a factor representing the severance pay per time period for the job function, then added any additional severance based on job function. From these calculated values, a letter would be
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Gorobei ( 127755 )

              The whole reason managers exist is to maintain sanity: if a company reaches the point that it is terminating an employee without the employee's direct manager reviewing the documents involved, it deserves everything it gets.

              You can chose to be either an ongoing, profitable business, or a bizarre digital art-form, but if you chose the later, do not be surprised when you lose money in the real world.

          • Yep (Score:3, Informative)

            by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 )

            The way a court would view this would have almost entirely to do with what had (or hadn't) been agreed on beforehand. If their employment contract or severance paperwork specified a dollar amount either explicitly or implicitly as a percentage of salary, then they'll need to pay the money back. It is clearly an error in that case, and you agreed to a different amount. It'd be no different than if in a store you accidentally hand a cashier a $100 bill instead of a $10 one for a $10 item. They don't get to ke

        • If the ammount communicated differs from the ammount paid (which is almost always the case in these situations, regarding of the company) then Microsoft has little chances of losing it in court. They also have few chances of having to go to court in the first place, as you wouldn't want to have that in your background when looking for a new job, especially considering that Microsoft is likely the next employer for many of these employees, given that it's the biggest employer in the Seattle area and the two
          • by Gorobei ( 127755 )

            If it's less than $100K, the company will not take it to court. A good lawyer will merely hint that she plans to discover information on overtime, H1Bs, and discretionary bonuses. When the company realizes it has to explain to a jury that one senior developer earns $100K/yr, while another gets $400K, it STFU pretty fast, and eats the few thou it paid by mistake.

  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:06PM (#26952697) Homepage Journal
    They are unable to write a correct severance package. In my entire career, I have never has an experience like this.

    Even though they have tons of cash in the bank, they risk bad publicity to get the overpayment back

    Instead of declining comment, they admit the letter is valid, thus proving a general lack of confidence

    • Instead of declining comment, they admit the letter is valid, thus proving a general lack of competence

      Corrected that for you.

    • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:18PM (#26952805)

      they risk bad publicity to get the overpayment back

      You think MS cares about bad press anymore? In my recent memory... The Zune date bug, the failure of many 360s, DRM schemes in everything, the disaster that was Vista, and the meh responses from the media for any of their new endeavors.

      I honestly don't think that MS has any more credibility to ruin.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Sure, Microsoft has next to no credibilty in this crowd. Are we past most people thinking that Windows IS the computer? I don't think so chums.

        It may not be as crucial in this economy, but every company has to hire. This is bad press to future prospective employees. And the kind of talented IT professionals that any successful software company must employ are just the type to read this type of press.

        They may have a substantial market share, but they've created an environment where customers expect constan

    • by fm6 ( 162816 )

      They are unable to write a correct severance package. In my entire career, I have never has an experience like this.

      I have.

      Even though they have tons of cash in the bank, they risk bad publicity to get the overpayment back

      Why do people keep assuming that corporations have free will? No officer of a publicly held company is in a position to say "oh well, it's only $1 million, we have $50 billion in the bank, no big deal."

  • by thesazi ( 1245210 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:12PM (#26952759)
    IANAL but i'd expect the fees related to going after individuals who refuse to give back the money probably costs more than just letting them keep it. they'll probably just write it off and note that ex-employee's name in the HR database as a "do not hire"
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bipbop ( 1144919 )
      I'm not a lawyer either, but in my experiences in California, this is tricky--our HR people told us it wasn't legal to keep a list of people marked "do not hire." No, I don't know why, or whether they were correct.
  • by jadedoto ( 1242580 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:26PM (#26952857)
    I understand completely then. Sometimes I find Excel gives me non-trivial rounding errors too.
    • by thewiz ( 24994 )

      I wonder if their accounting department is still using Pentium CPUs with the divide bug.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:39PM (#26952959)

    When you train the people in payroll to keep clicking "Allow".

  • Pay it in vouchers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by carou ( 88501 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:41PM (#26952965) Homepage Journal

    In the past, Microsoft has settled fines by giving away the fine value in money-off vouchers for schools to buy cheaper copies of Windows (in areas where the schools had tended to use the competition's systems, naturally).

    These workers should do the same thing. Print up a few dozen vouchers for $100 off a week's contracting rate.

  • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @08:52PM (#26953073) Journal

    The letter asks for repayments to be sent to Fargo, North Dakota. If I got a letter purporting to be from my former company asking me to send money to a totally different state from that where I had worked and that where the company was based, I'd be more than a bit suspicious. This is apparently legit, but I wonder if any employees thought it was a scam (a scam by other than Microsoft, anyway)...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2009 @09:21PM (#26953307)

      Microsoft has a nice facility in Fargo, from when the bought Great Plains Software a number of years ago. Great Plains did accounting software so it makes sense that payroll could be done there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The letter asks for repayments to be sent to Fargo, North Dakota.

            Fargo is their Great Plains business software campus.

            I always wondered how their business software "Project Green" was turning out.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 22, 2009 @09:10PM (#26953247)

    Dear Microsoft,

    It has recently come to my attention that I have needlessly paid licensing fees for multiple OEM licenses relating to use your Windows computer operating system (hereafter referred to as "malware").

    I have upon many occassions purchased a computer from a vendor who is in the unfortunate position of being a Microsoft partner. Microsoft has continually discouraged its OEM partners from shipping "naked" (sans operating system) PCs. This has led to the situation where I, as both a consumer and business purchaser of laptop, desktop and server class computer hardware, often find it difficult to avoid paying licensing fees relating to your Malware when I order a new system. This is troubling since I neither want to run, nor to purchase a license enabling me to run your malware.

    Furthermore, I have suffered financially for many years as a result of your Malware being installed on the majority of desktop computers. Many of my web site customers are infected with a specific bundled component of your malware ("Internet Explorer"). Supporting this doubles the development and maintainance cost of my companies web site.

    I ask that you refund my overpayment on unwanted licenses for your malware and make a further payment in respect of losses incurred by my company due to the "Internet Explorer" component of your malware. The net amount you owe to myself is $60,000 payable by check or money order within 14 days.


    Anonymous Coward

  • Either by cost, value, or reference, all versions of windows were overpaid by consumers... what about returning those overpayments? Probably that will put around enough cash to end the current world economy problems, as a bonus.
  • by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @10:37PM (#26953753)

    This sort of thing happens all the time, banks overpay, payroll overpays, people overpay. It happens, if you get called out on it, you are legally and morally obligated to return the money(personally I tend to point out the mistake if I see it being made as well, but that's me).

    Is it a little petty to be going after terminated employees if the amounts are fairly trivial? Yeah. Do we know that the amounts are trivial? No. Remember an average of an extra grand per employee is 1.4 million dollars, not exactly pocket change, even to Microsoft.

    Companies do this all the time, it's part interacting with human beings who can and do make mistakes. If anyone other than Microsoft had done this, the article wouldn't have been written.

    • by freedom_india ( 780002 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @02:15AM (#26954787) Homepage Journal

      Prove it!
      Let Microsoft prove it in a court of law that it overpaid them.
      Just because a BIG corporate demands money from you doesn't mean you have to bend over.
      If i claim Microsoft wasted my money due to faults in its XP, would Microsoft bend over and pay me? NO
      They will regretfully inform me of their inability to pay and thank me for my comments.
      So, i have to sue them.
      Similarly, each such employee should send a simple regret letter expressing their deep regret at microsoft and stating clearly their personal policies prevent them from paying. Neither confirm nor deny you owe them money. State POLICY.
      Microsoft will spend 10x times the money on lawyers to recover the money from you.

  • by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer.alum@mit@edu> on Sunday February 22, 2009 @10:53PM (#26953843) Homepage

    The affected employees should repay Microsoft in the form of coupons that Microsoft can exchange for their services in the future.

  • If I (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DaMattster ( 977781 ) on Sunday February 22, 2009 @11:24PM (#26954021)
    were one of the unlucky ones laid off from work, I would really like to say the words, "So sue me," and not return the money. But, to take the ethical high ground and pay back the money is really the best course of action because it makes you look like the good guy. You will be more apt to be considered for rehire. I dislike M$ intensely but I won't stoop to ethics violations .... including pirating M$ software. Returning the money only makes you smell like a rose. I know that those laid off are suffering, but, at least you aren't alone. The suffering is widespread and getting worse by the week. The only silver lining to this cloud is that the government needs to pay attention to the plight of the working class and middle class because the adverse economic conditions are so widespread. The unemployed are no longer a statistical minority, and while sad, will actually help in the long run.
  • by qazwart ( 261667 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @12:07AM (#26954239) Homepage

    At least how many digits we're talking about...

    Most fonts keep numbers monospaced. Other characters in the fonts may have variable widths, but almost all fonts keep numbers the same width. This has to do with lining numbers up in columns when doing reports.

    I measure about six pixels per number. The zip code is about 30 pixels wide (6 pixels x 5 digits = 30).

    The blanked out area is 42 pixels wide. Now some of that is two spaces and a decimal point. Spaces look about 4 pixels and a decimal point is probably 2 or 3 pixels (it's hard to tell since the document was scanned in anti-aliased). That leaves 42 pixels - 3 pixels (decimal) - 8 pixels (spaces). About 32 pixels, or about 5 digits. Put 2 on one side of the decimal, and that leaves a number between $100 and $999 as an overpayment.

    Actually, this sounds about right for a math error of this type, and isn't too unusual based upon the complexities of this type of payout which includes includes considering the base salary, bonus payouts, unused vacations, unused sick leave, years in service, ranking, etc. Add in some government specific stuff, 401K vestments, stock plans, and who knows what else, and you can see how complex this can get.

    Still, it's hard to understand all of this: Microsoft laid off 1,400 people. If each of them received what seemed to be about $1000 in overpay, you're talking about $1.4 million dollars at the very most. If the average mistake was $300 and only 1/2 the people got that, you're talking about $200,000 (a more likely, but still quite large sum).

    Heck, the paper work alone to send out these letters and to track them probably costs Microsoft more -- not to mention the bad will and publicity it'll generate.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by DrWho520 ( 655973 )
      While you were working out how much money M$ wanted back, I was wondering how many people were going to take this opportunity to poop in a box and send it to that address in ND. Nice job, by the way.
  • by Zhe Mappel ( 607548 ) on Monday February 23, 2009 @01:04AM (#26954537)
    ...YOU pay Microsoft severance!

Think of it! With VLSI we can pack 100 ENIACs in 1 sq. cm.!