Sunday, February 22, 2009

Smooth Moves, Microsoft

In recent news, apparently, Microsoft made a little error in computing the severance of some of the 1400 employees it axed a few weeks ago--they paid out too much.
They've sent "sincere" apologies to the former employees, asking them to pay back the money. Predictably, they're not commenting. "Please bugger off, media."
It's hard to imagine a more boneheaded decision, and this from someone who worked for a giant company even more prone to boneheaded decisions than Microsoft.
I can see a little bit of the logic here. Microsoft has two choices. They are on the right side of the law in the US, unless of course the severance contract had the WRONG NUMBER on it, and then things will get a bit more tricky. They are perfectly within right to ask for the money back, and the former employees are obliged pay it back.
They can let it slide and write it off as a little generosity in a bad economic climate. This is what they SHOULD do for their own image and for their ex employees who may have already used that money to pay mortgages, etc. It's probably going to cost them a fair bit of change in lawyer's fees if they decide to pursue this legally when their employee don't give the money back, and they are going to look like complete assholes to just about anyone who doesn't already hate Microsoft. The PR damage is going to reverberate for a while.
On the other hand, the company is in the pockets of the shareholders, so if they perceive that their stock is going to bomb if they don't try to get the money back, they're going to go after it.
In that case, I propose the following solution.
The HR department spends a week handwriting personalized apology cards on nice stationary and the head of HR personally signs each one of them. Its a lot harder to be outraged about a nice note than a cold form letter in legalese. And HR gets to spend some time thinking about how to best peer review each-other's work for dumb math mistakes.
By the way, I'd give the money back. But I like one commenter on one of the tech sites' idea of paying it back entirely in pennies which are stored in unwashed bottles of Karo syrup.

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