Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The check's in the mail: Microsoft's severance clawback

Well, these things happen.

Microsoft overpaid some of its recent 1,400 layoff-ees, sending them a bit more than they had intended in their severance check. They apparently also underpaid some folks. But these things really don't have a way of balancing themselves out in the aggregate. Those who got short-changed want more. And those who got long-changed are being asked to send back a check for the overpayment.

Well, these things happen.

And when they do happen in this day and age, the information's all over the 'net before the rage has set in.

Within a Redford-minute of the first clawback letter being received, a copy of the dunning notice appeared in a post on Techcrunch.  (The particulars  - name and amount - are blacked out.)

As if Microsoft didn't have a lousy enough reputation - lousier than they probably deserve - for lousy quality, we now learn that they can't even get their payroll right.

Microsoft, of course, "apologizes" - make that sincerely apologizes - for the inconvenience their "inadvertent administrative error" has caused. But makes it clear that they want their money back in 14 days.

And please send that check to our payroll department, which is located in Fargo, North Dakota.


That suggests that payroll was using Great Plains accounting software, which MSFT acquired a number of years ago. Their very own product...

And Fargo,of all places.

I'm sure the marketing slicks and techies in Redmond who got the dings are doing their best Frances McDormand and William Macy imitations. You betcha!

It will no doubt pop out at some point, but it's not clear how great the overpayments were.

It does sound like the severance payments were relatively generous to begin with. The Seattle-PI had it as 60 days pay - 12 weeks - plus severance, which varied by tenure.  Of course, 12 weeks plus severance in this job market may not take you into your next "opportunity." Still and all, it's not a bad starting point.

Microsoft really doesn't have much choice in asking for the money back, I suppose. If they didn't, the folks who didn't get the extra scoop would be howling for equal pay for equal non-work. And it is Microsoft's money (even if it is equally Microsoft's error).

And folks should pay it back, if only to protect themselves if they have even a glimmer of hope (or a glimmer of desire) to get called back at some point - perhaps to help with unbugging the payroll system screw ups.

But post-layoff feelings are always raw, and there's no way that Microsoft doesn't end up looking clumsy and dumb on this one. And, of course, they also look like a bunch of miserable cheapskates. Even if they overpaid half those laid off, to the tune of $5K each, that's a mere $3.5M. Given Microsoft's bottom line, this is nothing.

If I were Microsoft HR, I would have explained how the error occurred;  pointed out that it wouldn't be fair to anyone if they got to keep the money; and acknowledged what is probably going to prove to be pretty obvious: i.e., that they don't really need the money. Then I would have said that the money was going to be put in a fund to do something or other for all of those laid off: extend everyone by a week's pay; hire a resume service that everyone can use for free; add on to whatever outplacement services they're offering; give everyone x-dollars worth of coupons for Microsoft products.

There really is no way that Microsoft needs the money that they overpaid. And there really is no way they can fully extricate themselves from this without looking a little bit inept.

Thus, my suggestion that they use the givebacks for the common good of those laid off.

But there's also no way Microsoft shouldn't be able to get the money back - in the same way that the bank can come after you if they inadvertently plunk an extra 100 grand in your checking account and you go ahead and spend it.

Still, if they didn't want to look massively tone-deaf, Microsoft maybe should have thought through how they could have better handled this mini-incident, before they sent out those gimme-back notes. (And now I'll have to go back over to Techcrunch and look the note they have posted and see if Microsoft was at least generous enough to include a self-address-stamped envelope. You betcha!)

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