November 12, 2008 at 12:00 PM EST

Further proof the U.S. economy is in the crapper: It appears layoffs are looming at Dunder Mifflin.

Sources confirm to me exclusively that Office actor-writer B.J. Novak is taking a leave of absence from the show to appear in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds. NBC declined to comment, but a Peacock insider says Novak asked producers for the time off and they obliged.

But exactly how much time off he’ll be getting is subject to some debate. According to one insider, Novak will be MIA for “several episodes” but will return later this season. Another source, however, says Novak may be done with The Office for good, at least as a performer. “He may write more episodes,” whispers my mole, “but as far as playing Ryan, I think he’s ready to move on.”

It’s unclear how Novak’s absence will be explained on screen, but making Ryan a victim of the current recession would be the logical way to go — particularly if you-know-who returns to Scranton and decides she wants her old receptionist job back (hint, hint).

That raises the question: Would Pam’s return to Dunder Mifflin cushion the blow of losing Ryan? And what if Novak is gone for good — can The Office weather the loss? Comment away! 

Jim, Pam, Michael, Dwight and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin employees hold down the Scranton branch
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