back to article Source: IBM disguised Watson Health layoffs as a 'redeployment initiative'

After announcing in January it was selling its Watson Health group to investment firm Francisco Partners, IBM assured staff left behind from the sale that they would be redeployed within Big Blue. IBM even had a term for this transition, calling it a Redeployment Initiative (RI) to distinguish the situation from a Resource …

  1. Drishmung

    IBM = I've Been Moved

    That appears to be a fundamental part of IBM's DNA. I recall being told that way back when IBM was the behemoth vs the BUNCH (Burroughs, Unisys, NCR, CDC, Honeywell), and no-one was ever fired or made redundant, that when IBM wanted to get rid of someone they would post them around the country ("I've Been Moved") until they got the hint and resigned of their own accord.

    1. ForIBMers

      Re: IBM = I've Been Moved

      They called it a "redeployment initiative" RI.......really just a Relocation Initiative.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Re: Redeployment Initiative

        It should have been called the Redeployment/Relocation Initiative Program - as the initials then refer to the health of the job!

        == Bring us Dabbsy back ! == (thanks, Potemkine!)

    2. Potemkine! Silver badge

      Another proposal

      Inglorious B'stard Managers

      == Bring us Dabbsy back ! ==

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. cjcox

    I'll take Big Blue for 100

    6,000 leaving

    Watson: What is, bathroom break?

  3. ForIBMers

    I was included in this RA. The article is absolutely correct. It was a disaster and impacted a lot of older employees.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It was a disaster"

      On the contrary, sounds like it worked out exactly as IBM wanted.

      1. ForIBMers

        I applied for multiple positions and never received a single interview. They could have at least made it look like they were trying.

        1. Yes Me Silver badge

          Same old...

          I suppose there's nothing to be done in a country with at-will employment as the norm. How does it work out in countries with effective employee-protection laws? That makes this sort of trickery much harder.

          (Ex IBMer here, but I left before I was shoved, fortunately.)

        2. JoeCool


          I'm surprised they directed you to an actual active manger ( not even necessarily one that was hiring ).

  4. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

    Won't stop until

    Excecutives are frog marched out of their offices in handcuffs.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Snowy Silver badge


    To the unemployment line...

  6. Ryan D

    Big Blue Balls

    Really surprised that after being unsuccessful in court the last couple of rounds they would want to be put under the microscope again so soon.

    1. ForIBMers

      Re: Big Blue Balls

      That is probably why IBM tried to slip one by everyone with a "redeployment." A lot of people were driven out of IBM during the redeployment because they couldn't play chicken with IBM to see what was going to happen. One employee ended up taking a job outside of IBM where he wouldn't have insurance for 2 months and couldn't afford COBRA insurance. All because he didn't know if there was going to be a severance offer with insurance, which, in the end, there was. One person reported to me recently "Arvind said there will no RAs in 2022 (except for Watson Health) so everything is a redeployment now." Of course, if Watson Health is proof of the reality, all these redeployments will end in RAs and mostly impact older employees.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. GuldenNL

      Re: Big Blue Balls

      I’m currently helping a Fortune 50 organization and as always, am careful about how I “stick it to IBM” whenever an opportunity arises.

      I’m finding the Watson Health sell off is very well known and hear a tremendous amount of sniping at IBM from the customers’ middle level executives (all over 40.)

      It is smelling like IBM are being pushed out, leaving not a single product or human resource behind. More to come, but the final decision is coming down very soon. It will take a lot of restraint not to sing and dance when the news is delivered.

    3. Dave@Home

      Re: Big Blue Balls

      I thought they were settling out of court rather than risk it going to a decision?

  7. Auntie Dix Bronze badge

    IBM Sells Turd and Takes Another Crap on Employees

    IBM's illegal BS has been going on for decades. Labor law remains weak, courts move too slowly, and the ripped-off die off.

  8. JohnCr

    A layoff by any other name is still a layoff

    Having worked at IBM and having also been part of a resource action (RA) -- make no mistake. A resource action IS A LAYOFF. So is a redeployment. Even though I was told I could transfer to another division and had the skills and experience needed, my application was blocked. Other IBM divisions were instructed not to hire people on RA lists. IBM uses layoffs to make its quarterly earnings statements. Any division that is not making huge sales and profits will have layoffs. It is that simple. Different words. Same intent. Sorry.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A layoff by any other name is still a layoff

      I was going to say, every RA I was involved in where people were told they could re-deploy, open seats mysteriously disappeared. Every attempt made to move was met with silence. I heard from one associate that he was told that moves were actively blocked (never saw the evidence but I know the sources and I trust them).

      I am so glad I am not working for them anymore.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A layoff by any other name is still a layoff

      Blocking of moves for people subject to a RA is common across the American corporate culture, even when you are based overseas.

      Saw it happen in a Big 4 firm, saw it happen in a bank with US head office, people just get stuck into a filing cabinet when they apply for posts.

  9. pavel.petrman Silver badge

    Francisco Partners...

    ... I read Fiasco Partners.

  10. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    This was floated in the UK, big blue wanted 'centres of excellence' and to get staff into offices, until it was pointed out that might constitute constructive dismissal over here and the idea was quietly dropped. We did get relocations though, I was 'benched' twice during my time, first time I managed to get rehired into a different role on the same contract, second time the role came with expenses so my commute was covered, then luckily IBM started shedding locations to save money so we all went to WFH. You got 90 days on the bench, and if you hadn't found a role internally in that time it was severance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

      "Constructive dismissal" is *exactly* how I'd have described the "Resource Initiative" scam in the article- an obvious description for what's very blatantly being done.

      I'm surprised you're the only other person on this forum mentioned it at all (and even then not with reference to the original incident). Can only assume that this is so easily got away with in the US that it's not so much of an (actionable) thing there and it didn't occur to most of El Reg's increasingly US-centric readership to point to the obvious.

      Of course, I suspect IBM's way of doing it has less to do with hiding it than with making it harder- to the point of not being worthwhile- to prove it in court, particularly in a country which allows its legal system to be used as a weapon of attrition by those with much deeper pockets and with much weaker employee protections in the first place.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

        The article makes it sound like constructive dismissal, but only because it neglects to mention the part where availability for relocation was a pre-requisite for employment in the first place. While it's true that they don't usually move you if they want you, it's not constructive dismissal to tell you to move when you've been employed with that as an express condition.

        I really don't have a lot of time for people who are willing to accept all the perks of a job, but then complain about the downsides that were the reason the perks were part of the package. IBM jobs are very much of that nature, in that they pay extra up front for the shit that may come down one day in the future.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

          'Other roles as required'

          Hey programmer you are now a 'hands-on customer service role' in a brothel we own in Cambodia

          Well ... looks like you just resigned then

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

          There's a huge difference between requiring someone to move for legitimate business reasons and quite deliberately exploiting that requirement in a malicious manner with the sole intent of forcing them to resign.

          That pretty much *is* the definition of "constructive dismissal"! The only question is whether it's possible and- more importantly- practical to get a US court to recognise it as such (or whatever their legal term for it would be).

          You could do pretty much the same thing with numerous other aspects of an agreed employment contract, i.e. forcing someone who agreed to variable hours to come in at deliberately inconvenient and inconsistent times, changing the number of hours worked randomly, hoping they'll resign.

          It'd be all but impossible to write up a contract with the required amount of flexibility that avoided all such possibilities of abuse (and you can bet that businesses would be the first to complain about "red tape").

          That's why there are laws against such blatant abuse of power like that, at least in the UK.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

            I don't know if it applies to a company as large as IBM but in the USA companies more directly pay for unemployment if they fire staff. So it's in a company's interest to argue that you quit or were fired for cause and get you denied unemployment

            1. ForIBMers

              Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

              One employee, impacted by the Watson Health RI/RA, was told by their manager they would not receive a severance or unemployment. At that stage it was still being called a Redeployment. Managers lied, intimidated, and retaliated against employees; no doubt. The only question is was it top down messaging or managers making these unethical and unlawful decisions on their own. This is why the article also mentions a National Labor Relations Board charge.

              1. martinusher Silver badge

                Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

                The bit that always amuses me is that 'managers' fail to realize that they, too, are 'employees'. Until its too late.

                1. ForIBMers

                  Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

                  I don't think managers wanted to risk the chance of not making the cut to Merative, so they did whatever HR told them to do to save their own asssssss' I'm sure the majority, if not all, were glad to get out of IBM, IMHO.

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

            There's a difference between a job where flexibility is required from the start, but they don't actually ask you to be flexible, and eventually start taking advantage of their right to demand it, and constructive dismissal - even if they do want you to quit.

            You know what the difference is? It's that it's what you signed up for and got paid extra for the whole time.

            It's just like being a contractor, really: you've given them the right to end your employment at will.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

              However it is that they discriminate against older workers, it remains discrimination regardless of anything in the hiring documents.

              Age discrimination is still illegal in the US, which is why companies go to such lengths to pretend what they're doing isn't "really" age discrimination even when it is (see IBM, various EEOC cases, etc.)

              1. ForIBMers

                Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

                The law firm of Litchten and Liss-Riordan has really led the fight against IBM on age discrimination cases here in the US. Shannon Liss-Riordan has made a name for herself on the basis of class action suits against IBM and other big corporations. However, she is running neck-and-neck in the primary race for MA Attorney General. If she wins the primary, she is almost guaranteed to win in the general, given how MA historically selects a Democrat. That could be a game changer for many of these cases, as she would begin an entirely new chapter away from her current firm, presumably.

              2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

                Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

                "However it is that they discriminate against older workers, it remains discrimination regardless of anything in the hiring documents."

                Except there is no age discrimination, in fact, because those alleging it don't have to prove a mechanism, they only have to prove effects. If the group who were fired is on average older than those who weren't, there might be a case to answer - but there isn't, because it isn't.

                1. ForIBMers

                  Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

                  Those 39- did much better at finding jobs internally than the 40+ group, in the case of the Watson Health RI/RA.

            2. This post has been deleted by its author

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

              I'm glad we both agree there *is* still a distinction between the former- which would be covered by the "legitimate business reasons" I already acknowledged- and constructive dismissal.

              As I already said, if it's being done with the intention of forcing the person to resign, and for those legitimate reasons, it *is* constructive dismissal.

              Which the circumstances and evidence surrounding this case make quite clear applies here.

              > It's just like being a contractor, really: you've given them the right to end your employment at will.

              No, you haven't given them that "right" at all. It's not like being a contractor; if it were, and *that* was what you agreed to, you'd have had a contract noting those conditions *explicitly* in the first place (and you'd most likely be deemed a contractor rather than employee).

              Rather than having the employer exploiting terms intended to provide flexibility in location/hours/etc to do so by the back door.

              They might get away with that in the US- since the country is run and controlled by those who stand to benefit from such nonsense- but there's a good reason they probably wouldn't in the UK (at least, not yet).

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

                Correction, meant to write:-

                > if it's being done with the intention of forcing the person to resign, and not for those legitimate reasons, it *is* constructive dismissal.

        3. JoeCool

          Re: Constructive dismissal? That's exactly what it is.

          You are inventing a story that doesn't exist. Your scenarios are wildly speculative, and in fact wrong - you're basically arguing that because the cow enjoys the "benefits" of being on the cow farm, it shouldn't complain about the consequences.

    2. JimboSmith Silver badge

      I met a bloke whilst waiting for a delayed flight in the USA who commuted weekly by plane. His large company had offered him a new job in in a different state across the country, if he wished to remain with them. He said he suspected that it was a way of getting him to quit without needing to pay severance. They were apparently very surprised when he said yes on the spot. His suspicions were confirmed a few days later when he was told that he would still need to do one day a week in his current office. He still said yes because company policy meant they would pay for his flights and accommodation. He did 4 days a week on the West Coast, one on the East Coast and the weekend with his family. Said he was building up the frequent flyer miles and well on his way to lifetime vip status with the airline. As soon as he had that status he was going to switch jobs.

      A company I worked for made most of the people redundant in my department after a the firm merged with another. They didn’t want to get rid of me and my skills they said and I was moved to another department. That lasted a year, the company was bought and I was out. A mate said his company tried downsizing by removing a layer of management. They said they didn’t want to lose those affected but people believed this was a sham. They were only advertising jobs during this period lower paid non management jobs which in effect meant staying on was a demotion. They screwed up though as most of these people took the demotions which didn’t give them the wanted and expected headcount drop.

  11. ForIBMers

    "All US and Canadian employees included within the scope of the sale transitioned to roles at Merative as of 7/1. We are unable to comment on IBM business operations or future waves of our deal close." What does "future waves of our deal close" mean?

  12. Trollslayer

    IBM have a mix of sharks, piranhas and

    whatever that the icon is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's The Terminator...


  13. aerogems Silver badge

    Shareholders need to clean house

    This sort of thing is no doubt going to keep happening unless and until the IBM shareholders send some Board members packing and install some people who will do more than show up for a couple meetings, eat some donuts, and collect a paycheck. Get some people in who will actually exercise a bit of oversight and root out all the managers responsible for this behavior and the lawsuits will stop.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Shareholders need to clean house

      Why this is exactly in shareholders interest.

      IBM is transitioning to support of legacy installations and government jobs where they are the only approved supplier.

      Eventually they will just be a patent troll.

      To do this they need a few cheap salespersons in the customer country and a bunch of report generators in a cheap country.

      The board achieving this at the cost of a few small fines rather than $$$ in redundancy is money in the shareholders pockets.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IBM are dead

    The mainframe is dead, as business move to the Cloud.

    Their Professional Services are irrelevant.

    Watson is a product looking for a problem that doesn't exist.

    My advice is let the HR and Execs have their way - zero staff for infinite profit - then watch the whole shitshow burn itself down to ash.

    The downside is the Exec bastards who caused this will simply move on and burn somewhere else down for self profit.

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: IBM are dead

      I was given a sales pitch on Watson at IBM's Hursley facility maybe 5-10 years ago. The idea was that Watson had been given a guidebook about the property, and you could ask it questions; such as 'how old is the building?', or 'who built the property?'

      Considering this was a sales pitch and it didn't manage to do that; who exactly was that supposed to appeal to?

      On the same sales pitch they even tried selling me a method that I already had running in my own systems. , and within my own control! Why on earth would I choose move it there...?

      Bad products lead to bad sales and eventually layoffs. It's miserable, there are good and capable people in the organisation. But it's hampered by leadership that have forgotten what they are there for.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: IBM are dead

      >the Exec bastards who caused this will simply move on and burn somewhere else down for self profit.

      Let it be Oracle, let it be Oracle

      1. TVU

        Re: IBM are dead

        "Let it be Oracle, let it be Oracle"

        ...which by coincidence, also has truly abominable (non)employment practices.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: IBM are dead

          At least Oracle don't discriminate in hiring the Dammed, Zombies and other members of the undead and soul-free communities.

    3. JoeCool

      Re: IBM are dead

      Go read an annual report. Mainframe is no where near dead. It is and always has been the engine of their growth.

  15. Mr D Spenser

    Death by a thousand cuts

    It appears that IBM is no longer a cohesive company, but instead has become some sort of strange "Used IT" marketplace. For the life of me I have looked for something to point to that says "This is what IBM does", but nothing jumps out.

    I expect that the future of IBM is to milk the mainframe + software renewal market for as long as it can while chasing the whatever the current fad is (AI, blockchain, quantum computing, etc) in an effort to look like they remain relevant. Along the way various pieces of the company will be sold off to make the quarterly numbers. Unlike the true IBM'ers that lived and breathed Big Blue with the expectation of being there for a 40+ year career, most of the current leadership were brought in from elsewhere. They are at IBM not to build or in this case restore a once great company, but to supervise it's demise.

    1. Binraider Silver badge

      Re: Death by a thousand cuts

      The mainframe areas are one of the few defining characteristics of "IBM-ness". Much of the rest of it is generic IT consultancy; not really anything to stand out about them. It is definitely hit-or-miss who and what you get from those areas.

      I've had good experiences with some business units, and dreadful ones with others.

  16. teknopaul Silver badge

    IBM is bad news for RedHat

    Meanwhile Cannonical is hiring at senior levels.

  17. ForIBMers


    What many of us at Watson Health did as a group was to organize outside of IBM communications. That allowed us to share information about our situations without concern over backlash. We shared our ages, documentation, emails, what mangers were saying, what HR reps were saying. Some employees were even recording calls. In some US states it is a felony to record calls without the consent of others involved in the discussion (two-party-consent), but in one-party-consent states it is fair game. I am in a one-party-consent state, so when HR reps and mangers want to take discussions off line, so there is no record that can provide proof of the discussion or be subpoenaed in the future, bring it. You have to take the fight to them internally. Do not be intimidated by them. They leverage fear and hope. The fear of losing your job and the hope of finding a new job. I was publicly open over my concerns of age discrimination. You can imagine that didn't' go over very well, but I was not doing anything wrong, and was operating within the law. They let their guards down during live discussions and recordings provide proof of a lot.

  18. CujoDeSoque

    Bait and switch

    Having had a few people I’ve worked with accept the relocation gambit, I can’t report any were kept very long.

    This is another tactic to buy time.

    Most importantly when dealing with a sales organization is the first rule: never sign anything they want you to sign without getting a very good labor lawyer looking it over. Second is never let them pressure you in any way.

    They want you to sign away your rights. Screw them.

    1. ForIBMers

      Re: Bait and switch

      Yep, my manager called me on my final day to say "You have to sign the separation agreement by the end of the day, you know that is $25,000" Yes, I know how to divide by thanks, I'm not signing off saying there is no age discrimination here. I looked at the numbers myself. The numbers being reported in the article. Placement rates for the 40+ were dismal. One 40+ year old employee, who had reported to his manager he was thinking about retiring and didn't apply for any jobs, did get a call and get placed, without any effort. IBM's thinking was probably he will retire soon, lets try to make it look like we do place 40+ yo employees. Not even close to enough to change the data. By all academic grading standards, the percent of 40+ year olds to find internal jobs was "a failure" as the article states.

    2. DrSunshine0104

      Re: Bait and switch

      Not certain on details on employment severance but if there is illegal practices going on with IBM's 'relocations', bad news for IBM. Signing a piece of paper saying you won't sue them for dismissing you while doing it illegally isn't cover for them. A NDA/Non-Competition/Severance signed under bad-faith to hide illegal activity isn't worth the paper it is on in the US court; no judge is going to say IBM was illegally dismissing employees but also you lose your severance. However, if you go to court you better go for the kill.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Slowly losing patience

    Now, for individuals it's all very sad and depressing to get laid off, but I'm starting to shrug my shoulders when it comes to this sort of thing, especially when it is in the USA. If you as a population believe big business has the best interests of workers at heart, then you deserve everything that's coming to you.

    Unionize! Fight for better conditions NOW so that you get to benefit from those in the future.

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