How do you impress a twelve year old in a way that makes him never forget you for the rest of his life? Easy! Make a video game with your name on it.

Microsoft has been able to position itself in such a way, that the company’s products are introduced at a relatively early age. It’s not fair to say that every teen pays attention to the manufacturer’s name on their video game box, but it is a relatively effective marketing strategy that eventually opens up the Microsoft world as he or she gets older (Xbox, Microsoft Office, Windows, and much more). Over the years, Microsoft has developed a monopoly for computer operating systems, which inevitable prevents individuals from making any small changes to the system due to copyright infringement laws. (The opposite of what Richard Stallman is trying to do).

Early in the ‘90s, Microsoft was sued over their use of the “PermaTemp”. Temporary employees are usually hired when the company has more work than anticipated and which exceeds the capacity of their full time staff. The use of temporary employees is common in many industries, but the word temporary has been getting stretched thinner and thinner by the Microsoft Company. Temporary employees are usually hired at bigger wages than the permanent employees, which is supposed to help them cope with the lack of health and company benefits that full time employees experience.  The idea behind a temporary employee is that they are with the company for a short period of time, and when they are no longer needed, they are dismissed of their services, or so many PermaTemp employees of Microsoft thought.

Over the years, Microsoft was taking advantage of the PermaTemps by continuously working them, without ever intending to make them full time employees. Even though the wages might be higher for permanent employees, the company was making a profit off the efforts of these temporary employees. Thus in 1992, Vizcaino vs Microsoft was brought forth into court, which inevitable ruled in favor of the “misclassified” workers. Nearly 9,000 workers received some sort of compensation for their undervalued efforts by Microsoft.

This issue was brought forth after many of the company’s permanent employees experienced great benefits from the rise in the Microsoft stock price, of which the temporary employees saw not a single dime.

As a result of this case settlement, 3000 “PermaTemps” were hired as full time employees. As far as the PermaTemps that are still with the company, Microsoft had expanded the privileges it offers to its permanent workers to also include the temporary employees. Temporary employees are eligible to purchase stock in the company, and the amount of time that the temp is with the company was shortened. As part of the ruling, permanent employees are no longer able to “participate in team building activities with other permanent employees”. The length of stay with the company was to never exceed one year stay, with a 100 day break if the temporary worker desired to work with that company again.

I was not aware of this issue up until now, and was definitely disappointed by how Microsoft acted. It’s nice to see all the benefits and rewards that these temporary employees were able to finally receive, but it still doesn’t make up for the unethical behavior behind Microsoft’s doing. It seems that cutting corners seems to be a very powerful trend for big corporations. I guess the argument is, if you are not doing it, someone else is and that they are the ones making the money. But at what point in your life can you simply forget about everything and simply devote yourself to purely making money? It’s too bad they couldn’t just go back to the days of making video games and other products “PermaTemp” free.

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One response »

  1. Jeff Galloway says:

    This is really interesting; I had also never heard of this going on. I had always viewed Microsoft as, if not a socially responsible company, at least as a respectable one. While what they did may not be incredibly uncommon in the business world, it’s still immoral and obviously illegal. I agree with what you say about the argument in the business world – if you’re not doing it, someone else is. There have been so many examples just in this class of corporations finding new ways to bend or break the rules, and I really don’t expect that to ever stop.

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