Marketplace Scratch Pad

80-grand to take a year off

Scott Jagow Apr 13, 2009

Impromptu poll question — If your employer offered you a year off from work and paid you a third of your salary to do it, would you take it? A New York law firm is offering all 1,300 of its associates that deal.

The law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom needs to cut costs, but it doesn’t want to lay off employees. So instead, associates have the option of accepting a third of their base pay to not show up to work for the next year.

The New York Times profiled one associate in the firm’s banking group who’s taking the deal. Heather Eisenlord says she’ll get $80,000, which of course is more than most people make in a year, but for her, is a two-thirds pay cut. She plans to travel the world:

Although she’s not yet sure exactly what she’ll be doing on her trip, she has some ideas. She would like to teach English to monks in Sri Lanka and possibly help bring solar power to remote parts of the Himalayas. She’ll probably hit 10 to 15 destinations around the world, most likely practicing not-for-profit law wherever she can be helpful.

The company says about 125 people have expressed interested in the deal, but they have concerns:

Not everyone could cover monthly living expenses on a third of one’s pay, and naturally some skeptical lawyers grilled the partners about job security. If there are layoffs in a year, they wondered, is it really possible that the lawyers who’d been defending trees in British Columbia wouldn’t be disadvantaged, compared with the lawyers who’d been slaving away on contracts in Midtown?

Not only were the lawyers assured that their time away wouldn’t hurt them; in some ways it would be protective: If there are layoffs while they are away, they will be immune.

Sounds like a no-brainer to me. There’s no way I could pay my current bills on a third of my salary, but I’d take the deal anyway and make adjustments. I’d probably travel cheap for a bit and then find a place to volunteer or work for low pay outdoors. Maybe a horse farm somewhere where they rehabilitate injured horses.

That’s what I’d do if I had the chance to not sit at a desk and work under fluorescent lights for a year. I don’t know about you, but this recession has made me question everything about how we work and why we do it.

Would you take the deal, and if so, what would you do?

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