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A redacted image of the letter Microsoft sent out.  (Source: TechCrunch)
Accounting error sees HR scrambling to get some of its money back

What’s something worse than being pink slipped? If you’re a former Microsoft employee, it could be having some of your severance pay taken back.

According to TechCrunch, someone at Microsoft made an accounting error when calculating laid-off employees’ severance pay, resulting in some checks being mailed out that were a little too generous. Now, Microsoft wants that money back.

“An inadvertent administrative error occurred that resulted in an overpayment in severance pay by Microsoft,” reads a letter the company mailed out. “We ask that you repay the overpayment and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience to you.”

TechCrunch reports a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed the letters but refused to give specific details, calling it an internal, private matter between the company and the employees it let go.

The spokesperson did confirm, however, that the error worked both ways: while some employees were overcompensated, others received less than what they were entitled to.

A photograph of one of these letters, provided anonymously, shows little more than a request for the money back and some important tax information, with some rather curious advice on how repayment “in a later calendar year” would affect the receiver’s taxes.

CNET suggests the letter contained a “veiled threat” of monetary punishment, but given the aforementioned tax suggestion it is hard to see how the letter, in and of itself, sports teeth. There is no mentioned deadline.

On a rather humorous side note, a poll accompanying the TechCrunch article suggests that almost 75% of the 8,000 total voters would ignore the letter and keep the cash – and only 13% would immediately give the money back.

UPDATE 23-Feb-2009: Microsoft reversed its stance and is now letting the overpaid employees keep the extra money.

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RE: Follow the leader
By omnicronx on 2/23/2009 9:27:43 AM , Rating: 2
Is it really worth the loss of a good reference? My guess is this is the least of what would happen should you refuse to pay the money back.

RE: Follow the leader
By mcnabney on 2/23/2009 10:41:41 AM , Rating: 2
References are personal and have nothing to do with the business. All that the Microsoft HR department can do is confirm the employment when contacted.

RE: Follow the leader
By callmeroy on 2/23/2009 1:33:33 PM , Rating: 2
References certainly do matter and the only thing the law states is you can not be slanderous when giving a reference. An employer certain can give an assessment of the past employee's performance - he just has to be extremely careful of a) how much information he gives and b) the words he uses.

RE: Follow the leader
By twhittet on 2/23/2009 2:33:51 PM , Rating: 2
You're right how references can be a big thing. I live in a relatively small town that has recently lost around 50 direct Microsoft employees. Many of the people in the profession know each other, and screwing your previous employer would not be a great way to look for a new job in the same town.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain
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