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Drugmaker Lays Off 1,700 Via Conference Call Ahead Of Holidays

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On Nov. 30, employees at Sanofi-Aventis pharmaceuticals, the world's fourth-biggest drugmaker, received an email from the company wishing them a happy Thanksgiving and telling them to check their email again at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 2.

A.R., a Sanofi-Aventis sales representative in California who wished to remain anonymous, as her contract forbids publicly disparaging the company, said she and her coworkers each received one of the two mass emails the company sent out that Tuesday morning. Both emails contained a code, an 800-number and a call time, either 8:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. The employees who were instructed to call in at the earlier time were told they could keep their jobs, but the 1,700 employees who called in at 8:30 a.m. weren't so lucky: They were laid off by a voice on the other line that told them to stop working immediately, and had no opportunity for question or comment.

Unfortunately, A.R. found herself in the second group.

"The way they did this was so brutal and inhumane," she told HuffPost. "We were each assigned an employee number when we started working there -- an 'NM' followed by five digits -- and that's how I felt that day. Like a number, rather than a valued human being with feelings."

Sanofi-Aventis told its employees they would be paid through Dec. 31, and gave them a modest severance package. A.R., who had only been working at the company a year and a half, received 13 weeks of pay and benefits.

A.R. says a representative from an outside company hired by Sanofi-Aventis to repossess materials came by almost immediately after the layoffs to take back the company car she had been driving.

"My manager had convinced me to sell my personal car three months earlier because he said the company was in really good shape," she said. "So I sold it. I might have to use my severance pay to buy a new one now, so I can drive around to job interviews."

Jack Cox, the senior director of media relations for Sanofi-Aventis, said the company acknowledges that its method of laying off employees "wasn't ideal."

"Rather than cascade these announcements and stretch the notifications over the course of days, we decided to address these colleagues at one time, to explain the rationale for the reductions and express appreciation for the contributions they've made to the organization," he said. "We acknowledged in the call that delivering this news on a teleconference wasn't ideal, but given the scope and scale of the reductions, there was no other way to share this news quickly and consistently."

The automated call seems to have had a ripple effect in at least one employee's life. A.R. says she was so "shaken" by the whole process and is so worried about the possibility of finding employment in this economy that she can't sleep at all, and it's affecting her ability to perform in job interviews.

"I've gone through a roller coaster of emotions, angry to panicked to sad, and the feedback I've gotten on interviews is that I seem too anxious, like I'm more interested in getting any job than that particular job," she said. "I say, 'I'm sorry, I just got laid off.'"