back to article Microsoft asks laid-off staff to refund overpaid redundo cash

Microsoft has asked some former employees it recently laid off to return a wad of their severance pay after the software giant made an embarrassing accounting cock-up. The blunder was picked up by TechCrunch, which obtained a copy of a letter Redmond had sent out to an undisclosed number of ex-employees. Microsoft has since …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Sorry we stabbed you in the back, can we have our knife back please?

    I would personally keep the money, if it ever went to court I would offer to repay $1 dollar a month to them.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Spreadsheet error

    This is what happens when you use Excel for anything serious. Shoulda used Lotus 123

  3. Richard

    Stuff um

    My initial reaction would be "stuff um!", but are they actually obliged to pay it back? They're not under contact any more.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    "Overpaid you say?"

    "take it out of my next pay check will ya?"


  5. alain williams Silver badge

    Storm in a tea cup

    While I like to bash MS as any one else, this is probably just a cock up by some minion in HR, there is nothing malicious in this.

    To redress the balance I shall comment that the numbers probably fell foul of the latest bug in Excell.

  6. Sooty

    a bit suspicious

    "Those who were overpaid were sent letters asking them to refund Microsoft either by cheque or via a money transfer."

    if i got anything asking me to pay by money transfer or cheque, my first thought would be nigerian scammers and i'd just discard it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    please send your excess to us

    The executives still haven't had a nice vacation yet this year and we've got more people to let go.

  8. Dick Emery
    Jobs Horns


    I wonder if the ex-employees have any legal right to refuse handing it back. Probably not. But I am curious.

    The lord Balmer giveth with one hand and taketh away with another.

  9. mike

    Keep the money.


    "Please check your change before leaving the counter as mistakes cannot be rectified once leaving the store"

    sound familiar?

  10. Greg

    Sod that!

    I wonder how many people will photocopy their middle fingers and send that back? 'Cos I would.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    The real question

    Is whether under US law or their respective State laws, can these people keep the overpayment?

  12. Matt Martin

    Send multiple cheques of $0.01

    To the value requested, costs them more to cash than they'd get, but at least you've offered to return the money.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    For those we've inadvertantly underpaid.

    A letter is in the post.....

    It might be a joke, but it's not funny!

  14. Chris Bradshaw

    refund to Microsoft??

    Sorry, but until Microsoft is willing to easily and simply refund the cost of the Windows that comes unwanted with my new PC, I won't have any sympathy for them.

    Oh, and when they start actually losing money. Laying off people in a depression, when you can still easily afford to employ them, is unconscionable. Let alone the human factor of making people find work in a bad job market, it also compounds the depression because the ex-workers won't spend as much, causing other businesses harm.

    And now that I think about it, I would also like them to fix bugs in their software before releasing it, so that I don't have to deal with all the spam and <CENSORED> their <CENSORED AGAIN> software causes worldwide.

    Well, actually, I guess actually, there are no circumstances in which I would feel sympathy for MS... :-) My sympathy is with their ex-employees.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Law in the UK

    I know this case was in the US and IANAL, but I think the rule in the UK is that you are obliged to pay back an overpayment if it was "reasonably" obvious that you were overpaid.

    So for example, if you erroneously got a massive premium bond win, but didn't have any premium bonds (something you'd likely know), you'd probably have to give it back.

    On the other hand, if a store gave you a prize for being their millionth customer and it later transpired that you weren't, then you could probably keep it because you'd have no way of knowing that.

    At least that's how I heard it.

  16. kain preacher

    Had a company do that to me

    They said they over paid me because over time was not authorized . I worked it Cause you made me. The had the erve to ask for my bank details. For a month they kept on sending me e-mails

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ Richard

    Sorry, once you are aware you have been paid in error you are obliged to pay the money back, but you can negotiate the timescale of any repayments.

  18. Steven Raith

    Evil Graham is correct

    ...and while it may be UK employment law, I'll put a fiver on our US friends, if they check their statuatory rights and contractual obligations, finding that they have exactly the same caveat in their paperwork too. It's the same sort of regulation that gives you the right to claim any authorised hours you have worked [signed timesheets = the last word unless the company wants to go to court IME] - basic employee and employer rights.

    It's all very well saying 'stuff microsoft LOLZ', but it's there to protect smaller companies, where an excess zero or two on a payslip and the accompanying cheque could bankrupt them if it's not recouped promptly. Can't have one law for one company and one law for another - after all, that's what got MS into trouble in those anti-trust thingies, innit?


    Pirate, for the scurvy swashbucklers who want to take what isn't theirs....

    Steven R

  19. Scottie Taylor

    Letter in the mail, you say?

    What letter? I got no letter. Never received the damned thing. So sorry that I was not informed in writing that you screwed up. I'm afraid that I can't accept a verbal notification, after all what proof do I have that you actually represent Microsoft?

    Hell, if they ever take them to court and you know they're going to win? Walk in with sacks of pennies and dump them on their table. Payment given in front of witnesses. Just because it wasn't in the form they wanted, you did pay them.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tempting as it is ...

    Not to pay back money that isn't actually yours is called stealing.

    Stealing is wrong.

    As much as I despise Microsoft, the point is that I would rather have my reputation and honour -- the only thing that is actually meaningful in this current, shiny modern world that *means* anything anymore.

    This very thing happened to me recently.

  21. Henry Wertz Gold badge

    @Storm in a teacup

    Well, yeah, I don't think anyone thinks it's nefarious. But, it' s pretty low class to can people, pay them redundancy, then ask for some of it back.

    @kain preacher, I wouldn't tell them dick. It's illegal to not pay overtime, they can't expect you to stay in extra but not authorize overtime. Stay the course!

    @"Sorry we stabbed you in the back, can we have our knife back please? ", that's how I would do it too. I mean, if it's obvious someone made a typo, and there's an extra $100,000 paid out, I'd pay it back. If it's "Oh, you owe back 10%", they can damn well eat it. If they push it, pay back $1 a month.

  22. Doug Glass

    Nothing New

    This is common among "American" corporations. An error is an error, if you got the money by accident, it's not yours. If a bank errs and deposits $1,000,000 in your checking account, you'd best not spend it. Many have and many have regretted it.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Evil Graham etc

    Absolutely correct except for one additional thing (In English / welsh law at least) in that even if you believed the payment was in error you cannot be disadvantaged by the overpayment or the repayment.

    So you are entitled to ensure that (1) any amount you pay back is the true and correct amount and (2) any losses you incur in returning the payment should be re-imbursed.

    So what I would do is firstly ignore any requests.

    Then once they get all legal on me I would claim to have phoned "some bird in HR" because I thought the payment was too low but they assured me it was right*

    If that didn't work I would then do my own calculations, come up with a figure significantly lower than theirs and then offer to pay that. If they argued I would agree to look into the difference if they paid me my previous daily rate at a minimum of half a day each time to look into it.

    Finally, once all the procrastination had run out I would bill them for absolutely every single phone call, letter, time spent etc. in refunding the money.

    *Even if you didn't, they won't have recorded the call, you won't remember who you spoke to or exactly when, or indeed from which phone you called but you will make a point of sounding offended that when you queried the amount** they insisted you were wrong to query it but now they have changed their mind.

    **Remember Kids, always argue it wasn't enough, that way they are more likely to insist it is enough rather than actually working it out and then you have grounds to deny you believed it was an overpayment. This works for any overpayment where you feel honour bound (or legally dodgy enough) to point it out.

  24. Anonymous Coward

    Where was the error?

    Just a thought. - if the error wasn't just in the deposit to your account, but was also in your computer generated letter of severance which you agreed to (like you had a choice) and returned to HR, which was processed and payment was made to your account and THEN they ask for their money back...

    Doesn't that nullify the agreement? Making you still employed and entitled to backpay and any benefits? Plus possibly a little comp for your "pain and suffering"?


  25. Fozzy


    They are legally obliged to repay any overpayments. However, they are legally entitled to demand full disclosure on that overpayment, how it and all other entitlements were calculated Anyhting less and you can happily shred that letter and know you will win any future court proceeedings.

    Having finance and HR redoing all their sums (particularly HR) tends to stress them out too much and they just write it off, unless of course the overpayment is in the 10,000's of dollars In that case you can make repaynments of $10 a month by cheque

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Kinda works both ways, this law thing

    In all the excitement, we've overlooked the people who were underpaid.

    I guess the law means the overpaid people have to give some back (boo), but the underpaid people get some more (yay).

    Net result, everything is fair and square, if you ignore the fact that there's a company making slightly-less-enormous-than-last-year-but-still-enormous profits, yet laying a load of people off. Sometimes I don't get this capitalism stuff.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Title n stuff

    IANAL however I have gone through this. You are indeed correct that the overpayment does need to be paid back. You know how much you are being paid before the layoff and how much PTO or other non hourly/salaried pay you may have coming to you. It is therefor well within reason to be expected to know if your severance check was more than it should have been. Assuming it's grossly over what a quick and dirty calculation would provide and you don't pay it back or plead ignorance you could be in a world of legal hurt. Now if it's a matter of ten bucks then that might be a mitigating factor, however you are obliged to pay it back either way.

    Now as others have said paying it back in the form of one one dollar check a month would be a nice "fuck you very much" and something I'd be more than inclined to to.

  28. The Light of the Silvery Moon
    Gates Halo

    What's the difference?

    If you had mistakenly overpaid a store for goods or services you'd want it back wouldn't you?

    An administrator at MS made a mistake. Simple. Therefore MS is merely requesting the return of its own property.

  29. b166er


    If some bank stuck £500,000 in my account, they wouldn't see me for dust.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    The bank has made an error in your favor, Collect 1,000,000 and RUN

    You find 1,000,000 in your bank account

    Do you

    A) Report it to the bank

    B) Go to your bank with suitcases trying to withdraw it all over the counter

    C) Setup multipule offshore accounts and bounce the money around like a Superball in a tumble dryer then grab the next fight out to the cayman islands!

    Hmm I pick C

  31. Chris C


    This is pathetic... and I don't mean Microsoft. Many of the comments posted so far advocate not giving the money back. Look, nobody likes getting fired, but how do you justify not giving back money that you know you didn't earn (and by "earn", I'm referring to the amount of pay according your agreement with the company, not underhanded deals such as promised overpaid not being paid) and money that you know was given to you by mistake. If the company made an honest mistake, and you did not earn the money, pay it back. It really is that simple.

    Personally, I would not have deposited the check if it wasn't for the amount I was told I would receive. I would have questioned them about it, and made them give me a new check for the correct amount. But then, I have a moral code I live by, and I don't lie, cheat, or steal to get what I want.

    Go ahead, refuse to give the money back. But then you're no better than they are.

    @Henry Wertz re: @Storm in a teacup:

    "I wouldn't tell them dick. It's illegal to not pay overtime, they can't expect you to stay in extra but not authorize overtime. Stay the course!"

    In my experience, overtime pay is only required for hourly employees, not salary employees (and I would be very surprised if Microsoft hired anyone as an hourly employee). You might want to try looking at the employment laws of various states. It could be a real eye opener. For example, the state of Massachusetts requires overtime pay in general, but has a long list of exclusions:

    Such exclusions include "a bona fide executive, or administrative or professional person or qualified trainee for such position earning more than eighty dollars per week". Sounds to me like that would most likely cover most of Microsoft's employees. I don't know if Washington state has similar exclusions, but most likely it does.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE: Nothing New

    "An error is an error, if you got the money by accident, it's not yours. If a bank errs and deposits $1,000,000 in your checking account, you'd best not spend it. Many have and many have regretted it."

    That's not strictly true, my mum had someone paying money into her account by accident (some banking mistake). The bank manager of the branch this person had their account phoned up my mum to pleaded for the money back but technically this isn't a problem if it is made over time (the bank cannot legally take the money from your account unauthorised).

    My mum did pay back the money back but she was within her rights to keep it (she sought legal advice about it). I think she felt sorry for the bank manager as he could have lost his job over the matter.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Chris Bradshaw/bank error

    Sorry, but until Microsoft is willing to easily and simply refund the cost of the Windows that comes unwanted with my new PC.

    Um why would that not be the manufactures issue ??? You didn't buy Windows directly from MS did you ? So how would they be responsible ?

    There is case law that states if a bank makes an error you must pay the money back unless it made a significant difference in your life/paying back would cause undue hardship.. So if you make $50k a year and the bank made an error giving you $250k and you spent it well they are SOL . I also believe they have to demand the money back under 90 days .

    oh in most states , in order for MS to get the money back they would have to sue. Thats could cost them more money than its worth .

  34. Sep

    UPDATE: Microsoft decided not to seek overpaid money

    I'm not surprised they're calling it off, $4000-$5000 overpayment per employee is not worth the PR trouble. At least not for a company the size of Microsoft.

    Now if it was $40,000-$50,000 per employee, things might fall differently.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Another thing we kind of forgot

    What with all this talk of legal bravado and derring-do, we kind of overlooked the fact that Microsoft has a shitload of lawyers. Like really, a lot. These guys make people very miserable for a living, and somehow I doubt that Microsoft has been laying many of them off.

  36. Dan

    Reasonably expected to know

    I was laid off last year. I expected one lump sum, to match my rough calculation of what I was owed.

    What I got was: Wait until the end of the month, when 1 month's wages turned up. Too low, surely? No, as in the confusion of getting the chop I hadn't understood that I was actually still technically employed until then. Then at the end of the next month I received another month salary, plus a few hundred quid. Still too low, eh? No, turns out this was my notice period plus holiday not taken. Then next month I received what I expected, but because redundancy pay below a certain threshold isn't taxed, that sum in itself is not merely net wage x 3 months, or anything else that might be familiar. Surely it was now too high, given what I had already received? Nope again. I checked with HR, and they assured me it was correct. Fine, but what if they were wrong?

    While I was pleasantly surprised at the payout, in truth I didn't know whether I was coming or going. Be careful before accusing people of theft.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    @ Chris C

    Most people here agree that paying it back is necessary (and the holier than thou lot can kiss my arse, people pay it back cause it's illegal to do otherwise not because it's immoral) - however, there's nothing wrong with offering to repay it in small amounts over a long period of time.

    MS screwed up, you're being nice enough to fix their fuck-up for them, but I don't see any harm in doing it at your convenience and not their's.

    Tux - because unlike Microsoft employees and software, it does what it's supposed to do.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    return overpayment

    I once made an error on a one off payment from my account (I got one digit wrong) and deposited a thousand pounds into some bloke's bank account instead of my mum's account (internet banking).

    Scared I might lose the whole lot I immediately rang the bank who advised that if that bloke touched the money it would be theft (unless he was expecting a thousand pounds at the time) and I would definitely get my money back.

    As it happened, the bank was right, but I don't know what the other guy's reaction was when he saw his statement...

    If it was the same as some posters here I might have had a real problem...

  39. Steve Roper
    Thumb Up

    @ AC 23 Feb 23:58

    "Setup multipule offshore accounts and bounce the money around like a Superball in a tumble dryer then grab the next fight out to the cayman islands!"

    You, sir, owe me a new keyboard. And monitor. You bloody crook! ;)

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