Can a debt collector call me at work?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act strictly regulates collection calls while a person is at work. The Act recognizes that you have a right to keep your personal financial information private and that it's difficult to maintain that privacy while you're at the office. If you're getting collection calls at work, here's what you need to know.

The FDCPA only applies to “debt collectors” collecting “consumer debts”

The FDCPA only covers a debt collector that is collecting a debt for someone else. It does not apply to a creditor collecting its own debts. So if the calls are from a bank or credit card company that is collecting its own debts, the FDCPA doesn’t apply. But the FDCPA does apply to collection agencies, debt buyers, and law firms who are collecting debts for someone else.

In addition, the FDCPA only applies when the debt being collected is a consumer debt. This is a debt used for personal, family, or household purposes. If the debt was incurred for a business, the FDCPA doesn’t apply.

Collection calls at work are illegal if the collector knows that your employer prohibits them

The FDCPA doesn't expressly forbid a debt collector from calling you while you're at work. But if the collector knows that your employer doesn't allow you to take calls on the job, then the FDCPA prohibits further calls. For example, let's say that you're a nurse and you're not allowed to make personal calls during your shifts. Knowing this, you tell a collector not to call you at work. Once you've told the collector this, any further collection calls while you're at work probably violate the FDCPA. There's no special language that you have to use to notify the collector that your employer forbids calls. It's enough to tell the collector that you can't talk while you're at work.

Depending on your job, you may not even be required to tell the collector that you can't take collection calls at work. For example, some jobs--such as manufacturing, health care, and teaching--so obviously don't allow the employee to take personal calls at work that a debt collector should know that calls are prohibited without being told.

Collection calls to someone else at your work are almost always illegal

Although the FDCPA doesn't prohibit all collection calls to you while you're at work, it does prohibit most calls to someone else at your employer. So most collection calls to your co-workers are illegal, especially if the collector discusses your debt with the co-worker. There is an exception if the debt collector is calling a your employer to enforce a court judgment. For example, a collector may call your human resources department to discuss a pending wage garnishment against you.

How to use the FDCPA to stop illegal collection calls to your workplace

The FDCPA gives you the power to sue a debt collector that violates the law. It's a great way to stop illegal collection calls to your work and to hold the debt collector accountable for its illegal conduct. Under the FDCPA, a successful claim gets you:

  • Up to $1,000 in statutory damages (even if you've suffered no monetary loss);

  • Provable actual damages (including for emotional distress);

  • Your attorney fees and court costs must be paid by the collector

Most consumer lawyers handle FDCPA lawsuits on a contingency fee. This means that you don't pay any fees unless your attorney recovers money for you and those fees come from the collector's pocket, not yours. Congress wrote the FDCPA this way to incentivize people to enforce the FDCPA and help the government regulate debt collectors and ensure compliance with the law.