There are two primary ways that federal law can protect you from dealing with telephone calls from creditors and bill collectors at your job. You do have a right to be free from debt collection calls at work, but how you exercise that right depends on who is calling you—the debt collector or the creditor.
Can Debt Collectors Call at Work?
Typically, creditors and collectors won’t call you about your debts unless you haven’t made payments. If your debt goes into default, creditors will either attempt to collect in-house or hire an outside agency to collect the debt. These third parties are referred to as “debt collectors” under federal law. Debt collectors are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
The FDCPA limits the ways a debt collector may communicate with you and others (including your employer) about your debt. It is not per se illegal for a debt collector to call you at work. However, the FDCPA prohibits debt collection calls to your job if the debt collector “has reason to know” that your employer forbids those calls.
What is the best way to give the debt collector a “reason to know?” Simply tell the debt collector to stop calling you at work. You don't need to ask the debt collector in writing, but it helps to keep a written record in the event of future problems.
What happens if the debt collector continues to contact you at work after you told it to stop? You can sue the debt collector in state or federal court for violating the FDCPA. The statutory damages are up to $1,000 for each action. In addition, you may be able to get actual damages, attorney’s fees, and court costs.
(Learn more about when debt collectors cannot contact you at work.)
Can Creditors Call at Work?
The FDCPA does not stop creditors themselves from contacting you directly at work, since they are not considered “debt collectors.” For example, if you are a month late on your car payment, there is nothing wrong with that creditor calling you at work.
However, there are instances when creditors may violate the law by contacting you at work.
Debt Buyers Are Covered by the FDCPA
Although the FDCPA doesn’t cover collection actions by most creditors, it does apply to “debt buyers.” These are creditors in the business of buying old delinquent credit accounts and then collecting on them in-house. Debt buyers don’t extend the loan or credit to you in the first place, but then buy the account from another creditor. Since debt buyers are covered by the FDCPA, they cannot contact you at work if they have a reason to know that your employer forbids such calls.
The FTCA May Prohibit Creditor Calls at Work
You may have protection from workplace collection calls by creditors under the Federal Trade Commission Act (FTCA). The FTCA prohibits creditors from engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices. The FTCA does not specifically prohibit these telephone calls. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers a collection telephone call to your workplace from a creditor who has—or should have—reason to know that such a call is prohibited by your employer to be an “unfair or deceptive act or practice.”
What is the best way to give the creditor a “reason to know?” As with a debt collector, tell the debt collector to stop calling you at work. It’s also a good idea to advise that creditor in writing, stating specifically that such calls are forbidden at your workplace.
What happens if the creditor continues to contact you at work after you told it to stop? Unlike the FDCPA, the FTCA does not give you a right to sue thr creditor for violations. Instead, you can make a complaint with the FTC. You can do so by visiting its website at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. The FTC will then conduct its own investigation and, when appropriate, take action against that creditor.
Local and State Laws May Prohibit Creditor Calls at Work
Your local and state laws may also offer additional protection from workplace collection calls from both debt collectors and creditors. State law may also provide for greater damages than what is allowed by federal law. Check with your state attorney general's consumer law department, or a local attorney, to find out what’s legal in your state.