You’re at work. Your work phone rings. You answer. A company representative asks you to verify your name, which you do, and then states you are late on a bill. The representative then asks how you would like to make a payment today. You are speechless because you never thought a creditor or debt collector would go to the extreme of calling your job in an attempt to collect a debt. You immediately hang up the phone because your job does not allow personal calls while at work. Your mind is racing as you rack your brain to figure out how they obtained your work number. Anger, frustration, embarrassment, anxiety…are they going to call again? Will my boss fire me? You look around and hope that none of your co-workers overheard. Worse…what if they call back and someone else answers the phone? You settle down and ask yourself “are debt collectors allowed to call me at work”? The short answer, most likely NOT!
In Florida, two different statutes apply when creditors and debt collectors call your job in an attempt to collect a debt- the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”). Debt collectors (third-party companies hired by creditors) must abide by both of these statutes, while creditors only have to abide by the FCCPA.
The FDCPA states that a debt collector cannot attempt to collect a debt from you at work if they know or have reason to know your employer prohibits such communications. See 15 U.S.C. §1692c(a)(3). The FCCPA is even more protective and states a debt collector or creditor can only attempt to collect a debt from you at work if they have a judgment against you or if you have given them written permission to contact you at work. See Fla. Stat. 559.72(4).
Arguably, if a debt collector or creditor calls your job and attempts to collect a debt from you without a judgment or your written permission, they have violated the FCCPA at a minimum. They know the law, but they know that calling people at work will give them great leverage in collecting the debt by any means necessary. They know that one in a hundred will do something about it so they will call you even when they know they can’t!
WHAT CAN I DO?
Pursuant to both the FDCPA and the FCCPA, a consumer debtor is entitled to up to $1,000 in statutory damages, any actual damages (i.e., if you lost your job due to these calls), and attorney’s fees and costs. Simply put, you never will have to pay attorney’s fees or out-of-pocket expenses in these types of cases, and in many scenarios, you will be awarded $1,000 in statutory damages. Lawmaker’s knew that if people had to pay attorney’s to represent them these laws would never be enforced. So to persuade attorneys to take these types of cases, they make the debt companies pay for your attorney’s fees.
WHAT DO I DO NEXT TIME THEY CALL?
Simple- tell creditors and debt collectors to “Stop Calling” because you are not allowed to take personal calls at work. As discussed in a previous blog “HOW TO STOP DEBT COLLECTORS FROM ROBO CALLING YOUR CELL PHONE” document any calls you receive from creditors and debt collectors while at work. Take a picture of the call on your work phone caller ID, so you have proof of the call. Make sure you save the picture on your cell phone. This goes a long way in obtaining a successful result in your case.
CONTACT A CONSUMER PROTECTION ATTORNEY
Immediately following your first collection call to your work, you should contact a qualified consumer protection attorney. Ideally, you should search for a law firm that regularly handles these types of cases. Attorney’s that “dabble” in this area are likely jack of all traits and master of none. You don’t have to hire me but make sure you hire someone that spends his or her entire legal career dedicated to handling these type of cases and keeping track of the ever changing laws in consumer protection. If you simply have a question, call or email me to discuss. I make myself available to not only clients but also anyone that wants to learn more about consumer protection laws. Feel free to email me at Jon@BerkMyer.com. I will review your potential case at no cost and answer any questions you may have.
Jon Dubbeld is head of the consumer protection department at Berkowitz & Myer. He has successfully litigated many illegal workplace call cases across the state of Florida. He may be contacted at Jon@berkmyer.com