Something's going on at Apple. Normally a leak-proof ship, the S.S. Steve Jobs has been taking on rumors of layoffs. The latest: Cuts in Mac hardware and software units, says a tipster:

There are layoffs at Apple today. Lots of security around. Looks like Mac hardware and pro applications folks are being impacted. Don't have any idea of numbers....but it seems like a lot.

A recent report of layoffs in Apple's sales force sparked some controversy, because corporations are supposed to file notice of mass layoffs in advance and Apple PR denied the layoffs. I absolutely believe they happened, despite bloggers who bought Apple's PR spin. It only makes sense in a weakening economy, when businesses are slashing purposes, to cut salespeople. And Apple spokespeople, who have made a foolish practice of uttering obvious lies in public about matters as serious as their CEO's health, are about as credible as, oh, say, a CNBC reporter these days. But let's look at the actual law.

For a company of Apple's size, federal labor law only requires notice for layoffs of more than 500 employees at a single site, in most cases, under the WARN Act. If the employees are physically spread out over multiple sites, it may not apply. California, where Apple is headquartered has a stricter law, which covers layoffs of 50 or more employees, but there are similar loopholes. The state only updates layoff filings once a month, at any rate. If Apple really is making cuts, we may not get official confirmation of the layoffs for weeks, if at all.

There's another route the company could take to cut jobs without calling them layoffs: Disemploy workers with poor performance reviews and call them firings, a move called "forced ranking" that's used at companies like Cisco and GE.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling did not return a call for comment, but that's okay, because he never does.

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