A break for laid-off workers

A few weeks after launching the first wide-scale layoffs in its history, Microsoft Corp. admits it screwed up a key part of the plan.

First Microsoft realized that an administrative glitch caused it to pay more severance than intended to some laid-off employees. The company's response: It asked the ex-workers for the money back.

But when one of Microsoft's letters seeking repayment surfaced on the Web on Saturday, the situation turned embarrassing. Yesterday, the Redmond, Wash.-based company reversed course and said the laid-off workers could keep the extra payouts.

Lisa Brummel, Microsoft's senior vice president for human resources, said the letters were mailed to 25 of the 1,400 people let go in January. Most of the checks were off by about $4,000 to $5,000, she said.

Brummel said she learned of the letters over the weekend after one appeared on the technology blog TechCrunch.

"I decided it didn't quite feel right," she said in an interview.

The executive called most of the 25 laid-off employees yesterday to personally tell them Microsoft would not seek repayment after all. *