Severance

Microsoft brings us the grimly hilarious story of the day

February 23, 2009: 3:05 PM ET

gatesOur thanks go to Microsoft (MSFT), that gray and lumbering incarnation of serious business, for providing us with a moment of bittersweet amusement on this scary mid-recession Monday.

It seems that the software giant from Redmond miscalculated the severance owed to certain of its former corporate citizens. It was sort of like the Three Bears. Some received the proper amount. Others got a check that was too small. And finally there were those who got too much.

There is no record as yet that I've found of how Microsoft communicated with those who were shafted. I'm think they're perhaps still working on that thorny issue. But those who were on the receiving end of the excessive generosity received a letter specifying the amount owed by the laid-off employee to his or her former employer, and requesting that a check be mailed off immediately, made out to Microsoft.

I'm thinking that if I was unemployed, suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly, and planning on how to live off my severance for a while, a letter like this would put me into something of a quandry. A number of possible responses would suggest themselves.

First would be laughter, immediately followed by the urge to toss the letter into the circular file. I think that's probably what I would do, actually; throw the letter away and wait to see how many times The Company sent me follow-up communications before they got nasty. It's not only insurance companies who can stall, delay, "lose" things and become "confused" about financial obligations. Ordinary people can do it too, although seldom as flamboyantly.

I suppose I could also write them a check that was faulty in some fundamental way. It's often effective to write a perfectly good check but forget to sign it. Or date it 1909. Or 2109. There are many ways to make a check uncashable. So that might be a good tactic.

In the end, I guess, I could pay the company back. I could take out my checkbook and look at my balance, which is now being depleted daily with no incoming salary to augment it, and write a check to the multi-billion dollar entity that cast my entire family into the pit of uncertainty. It would be the right thing to do, of course.

Wouldn't it?

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