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Company reverses stance its critics panned as heartless

What’s better than being laid off by Microsoft, overpaid on your severance, and then being told you had to pay that overage back? Finding out that you can keep the extra cash, of course.

Microsoft appears to have doubled back on its request to get the extra money back from the laid-off workers it sent larger-than-supposed-to-be severance checks to, after the company realized it was heading straight into a PR hurricane of bad press.

“I thought it didn't make sense for us to continue on the path we were on,” said Microsoft senior VP for human resources Lisa Brummel in an interview with CNET. “I have called now 22 out of the 25 impacted employees, only because I haven't had time to get to the three but I will after we hang up.”

Microsoft overpaid 25 workers, said Brummel, for an amount of money that averages about $4,000 to $5,000. The accounting error worked both ways, however. An additional 20 workers were instead underpaid on their severance, and Microsoft has since mailed out an additional check to cover the difference.

An additional statement from an unnamed Microsoft spokesperson noted that the whole ordeal was “a mistake on our part.”

“We should have handled this situation in a more thoughtful manner. We are reaching out to those impacted to relay that we will not seek any payment from those individuals,” it read.

Brummel says it makes sense for a company to attempt to recover some of its losses resulting from an accounting error. She related a similar story of her own: when the company overpaid her some time ago, she promptly returned the extra cash in the form of a check.

Indeed, asking for the money back is the normal course of action for Microsoft. “Occasionally, we have clerical errors,” Brummel told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “We rectify that by paying them (more) if they were underpaid and asking them to pay back the money if they were overpaid.”

The ask-nicely policy was untested for layoffs, however, as the 5,000 jobs it cut were Microsoft’s first ever – resulting in a “unique population” for HR to handle.

New checks have been put in place to deter accounting errors in the future, said Brummel. “My hope is that no one makes a clerical error again, but that's silly to think it will never happen.”

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Good move by MS
By MrTeal on 2/23/2009 8:11:37 PM , Rating: 5
I could see going after them if they missed a decimal place and paid out 500,000 instead of 5000.00, but it's not worth it for them to take the bad press chasing $100,000.

I wonder if the accountant who f'd up will be joining his former coworkers in the unemployment line?

RE: Good move by MS
By stubeck on 2/23/2009 8:55:51 PM , Rating: 5
I highly doubt anyone will be fired. Its unlikely it was one person who is responsible for the error, and if every time someone made an error you fired them, you'd either have 0 employee's or no one would do anything.

RE: Good move by MS
By amandahugnkiss on 2/23/2009 9:20:53 PM , Rating: 5
Problem is that the 'bad press' is more literal than the sense that you used it. This isn't the first time a company has experienced an accounting error (I've seen many posts of this exact same error since this story hit the web), but it's the first time I remember seeing an accounting error get so much publicity. The standard response for every other company is and always will be what MS initially did. Hopefully they will get just as much positive press out of their generosity.

The 'bad press' or 'fucking sensationalistic press' was just looking for another opportunity to sling mud at their favorite target.

RE: Good move by MS
By noirsoft on 2/23/2009 11:06:40 PM , Rating: 2

I was once double-shipped on an order for software placed with a company. (no, not MS) I emailed them and offered to return the extra packages. I got no response.

About a year later, they sent me a form email asking me to return the duplicate software at my expense or pay up. (about $500) When I emailed them back, they apologized and let me keep the duplicates. I still have them in their shrink-wrap since I didn't need two copies in the first place.

RE: Good move by MS
By mondo1234 on 2/23/2009 10:47:39 PM , Rating: 5
I wonder if they used Excel to calculate it....

RE: Good move by MS
By StevoLincolnite on 2/23/2009 11:13:47 PM , Rating: 1
No, they used the 'Microsoft Works' software.

RE: Good move by MS
By taber on 2/23/2009 11:28:18 PM , Rating: 2
On a serious note I know MS uses SAP, as they gave a presentation at SAP TechEd last year. I think they use it as an ERP solution, so it could likely encompass this.

Having to work with SAP everyday, I'll jump on the bandwagon to badmouth them though. I have no idea why their outdated, overly complex crap is popular in business.

RE: Good move by MS
By Master Kenobi on 2/24/2009 7:16:31 AM , Rating: 2
I could say the same for Peoplesoft. I hate that product with a passion.

RE: Good move by MS
By steven975 on 2/24/2009 8:29:43 AM , Rating: 2
I do too. Our accounting system still doesn't work.

We had 7.49 and it worked so well, even though it is ancient. They spent millions upgrading to 9.0 and now millions more trying to get it to work. The peopleTools version we have pegs CPU usage at 100% on a dual 3.6Ghz Xeon server with just one user. Same server could handle 20 users with no slowdown. What's even worse is that they downgraded their server to a Pentium 3 (yes, in 2008) until I raised a big fuss.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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