I don’t want my office giving out my cell number to coworkers

A reader writes:

I have a question about personal contact information at my company. I work in a relatively small office (~25 people), and we have an extension list that also includes everyone’s cell phone numbers (not paid for by the company — our personal cell phones). I just started, so I just got listed.

I’m not thrilled with the idea that all of these people can now contact me at any time, mostly regarding matters not relating to our work (mocking about a football game, for example, came via text from an unrecognized number who turned out to be a coworker I’ve barely spoken to).

When I asked our HR person (she maintains the list) if it was possible to remove my number from this list, she said, and I quote, “not gonna happen” and walked away. Her reaction bothers me, but my main question is: is my employer allowed to give out my personal cell phone number to other employees without my permission?

Even if it is legal, I’d like to get my number taken off the list — do you have any advice of how I could go about doing that, since our HR person already voiced her opinion on the matter?

I could have sworn we talked about this before, but I couldn’t find it!  I may have dreamed it. In any case…

I know of no law that would prevent this; it’s an issue of office policy. And it’s very common. Offices do it so that people can be reached in emergencies, real (“the office is full of anthrax; don’t come in”) or not-quite-so-real (“where did you save that document?”).

I doubt you can get your number removed from the list without a pretty good reason. But if these random texts are common (and not just that one guy, that one time), you could either (a) ask that a note reading “for emergency use only” be added next to your number, or (b) ask that someone authoritative put a stop to that type of use of the list.

However, your HR person is rude and unprofessional. If she’s always that rude and dismissive, I’d put more attention on addressing that, not the phone number.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Sophia*

    Our entire family used to be on a plan without texting because we never did. If someone decided to text us, it would cost 15 cents. Boy did I get on friends or anyone else for that matter if they texted me something stupid that wasn’t worth 15 cents.

    I can understand why it might be needed for emergencies, but NO ONE should be calling you unless it’s really is an emergency. You should go back to HR and make sure this is clear – let them know that you are not comfortable with people calling you are texting you for non-emergencies because it costs you money and time.

    1. Anna*

      Perhaps you could suggest that if it’s really necessary for the company to be able to reach you at all hours, that they hand out cell phones to the employees (with the understanding that they would be used only for work-related emergencies that can’t wait until morning, of course). That way, you don’t spend your own money to do company work. And those who don’t have their own cellphones (like me, since I don’t have money to burn and wouldn’t get much use out of it) would still be reachable.

      Alternatively, you could ask if the company could reimburse you for work-related calls, since this isn’t a company-owned phone or plan.

    2. The other Kat*

      15 cents? Each text used to cost me $2 (well, $1.99).

      It’s your personal info. I don’t see how HR has the right to give it to others.

  2. Dom*

    I agree, it seems hard to get out of, but I wouldn’t want my personal number circulated either. I went on a long work-related trip and I was asked to circulate my boyfriend’s phone number “incase of emergency”…I had given this to my supervisor as well as a lot of other contact information, but was really uncomfortable giving it to everyone including the CEOs…way past my personal line (plus, we hadn’t been together that long…). I fought back a bit saying that I was going to have a cell there, had a local emergency contact, would be on email, and that my super had that and additional numbers just in case…but my refusal just made the rift between me and management bigger so I’m still not sure if defending personal/work boundaries ended in my favour.

    1. Adam V*

      You were going on a trip and were asked for your *boyfriend’s* cell phone?

      That would have gotten a “hell no” from me. Sorry, but unless you decide that it’s so important for me to be reachable that you give me a work-provided (and paid-for) cell phone, then you’re lucky to get my personal phone number, and you’d better have a great reason to bother me there. No way do you get the numbers of a relative or SO.

      1. Dom*

        I think this was less incase they needed something more in the case they couldn’t reach me and assumed I had eaten by wolves or captured by trolls… so who should they call before the police? Regardless, it was too far for me. I take precautions while traveling (I check in once a day by email or phone while traveling, code words for danger, and THEY know what to do if I don’t check in. And my super knows who it is and how to reach them). Regardless, that’s my business, and I don’t see any need for the finance guy to have my bf’s number.

    2. M-C*

      And how did they find out your boyfriend had a cell phone to begin with? Keeping your mouth shut is an underemployed art, which saves many conflicts..

      1. Mike C.*

        But then what will you do if the office is full of anthrax one day?

        Develop a habit of coming into work late, and see if the place is swarming with people in moon suits. :D

    1. Jess*

      Or get a google voice number (free and easy to set up) that forwards to your phone. Then you’ll always know if it’s someone from the office calling and when you leave you can delete the number.

      1. Another Emily*

        I think this is perfect. You’ll also be able to screen your calls this way if you don’t feel like answering a work call on a weekend.

  3. some1*

    This would bother me, too. My boss, counterpart, and HR have my cell, and I can’t see anyone contacting me on it unless necessary.

  4. Caroline Niziol*

    This is pretty common. We have an all-office cell list, but I honestly can’t think of non-work related uses beyond occasional jokes between co-workers who are already friends. I’ve been at my company for two years and have to receive an irrelevant text or phone call. OP, I know you’ve already gotten a random text but that generally isn’t par for the course with these kinds of lists.

    1. Lala*

      Same here,
      But we’re an office of about 700, just occurred to me that someone or I could sell the list for money
      I have been receive tons of spam text messages and telemarketing calls, but who knows where they got my number from

    2. Liz*

      That was my take as well. I’ve worked in offices where we truly needed to be able to reach people at all hours, and asking to be removed from the list would have been seen as very uncooperative. I’ve also worked in offices where we didn’t need to reach each other but we were encouraged to socialize, and asking to be removed or withheld from the list would have been seen as rude.

      Either would explain the HR rep’s reaction. Also, the OP’s horror over a random text about a sports team (to me that’s as personal as a wave across a crowded room, and might well have gone out to everyone in the person’s phone) makes it sound like the OP isn’t much of a smart phone user.

      People with different takes on smart phone use can really irritate and puzzle each other, so maybe it’s worth trying to see where the HR rep was coming from.

      1. OP*

        OP here. We aren’t required to be reached at all hours/ be “at work” at all times, though that would likely change my opinion regarding this issue. I didn’t seek out a meeting or anything with HR over this – when she handed me the list I said, “Weird! What’re the chances we could take my number off this list?”. I didn’t make a huge deal of it and haven’t mentioned it since.

        I guess we’re “encouraged” to socialize with each other, but is that really my company’s business? I do my job well, and I assume that’s why they hired me. If I don’t want to be buddies with everyone, is it fair for them to force my hand by giving my private information to other co-workers?

        The text – not a joke, but inappropriate mocking – contained my name and a reference to my specific sports team… not a mass text. Though I do know what those are, despite my alleged lack of technology use. To that point, I’ve had an iPhone for three years. But even if I still had my very first flip phone, I don’t see how that should change my reaction to the issue at hand.

        This is not the only example of my being contacted by an unknown co-worker. Just the one that I remembered at the time I asked my question.

        1. OP*

          Should probably clarify. “Inappropriate” doesn’t mean anything sinister. “Crosses the line/rude” would be a better descriptor. Carry on.

          1. Liz*

            I’m sorry I seem to have raised your defenses on this one. I was trying to say that other people would not consider that text rude, and some workplaces really would consider asking to be removed from the list to be very uncooperative.

            I don’t mean that in a judgmental way. You’ll notice I said “both sides… can irritate” each other. Mutually.

            And I don’t know that your company is “forcing” you to “be buddies with everyone.” It sounds more like they came up with a way to encourage more socialization, and then one person made an attempt to socialize with you in a way you didn’t appreciate.

            Either way, you have now very clearly signaled to two people in your organization that you have no interest in this initiative. I don’t know your workplace, so I don’t know if that is something they care about or not. Some companies care only that the job duties are performed. Some companies want more.

            It kind of sounds like your company is the latter, but I totally think it’s up to you if you want to oblige them.

  5. Wilton Businessman*

    Another argument for land lines? I digress….

    There are legitimate reasons your co-workers should be able to get in touch with you. However, it should be re-iterated that your personal number (for land lines OR cell) should be for business related issues only.

  6. Anonymous*

    I don’t have anything helpful to add, just wanted to say that I sympathize. My first office job was in a small company, and they published a list with our home addresses and phones for “emergency contact.” As a 21 year old female living alone, I was not overjoyed to have my personal information given out to a group of relative strangers “just in case.”

    1. JT*

      Really? You trust being in an office with them daily but don’t trust them knowing how to reach you outside?

      To the OP – I’d be much firmer with HR and perhaps ask my manager to intervene, saying that while you are open to co-worked contacting you for work-related emergencies, you do not want to be contacted for other reasons on your personal phone. Suggest they make it clear that the number is only for work-related emergencies. Be firm.

      What KayDay and Anonymous September 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm said below is spot on. It must be made clear the information in these lists is confidential for work-purposes only.

      1. Anonymous*

        “Really? You trust being in an office with them daily but don’t trust them knowing how to reach you outside?”

        Yeah, because no one in the history of ever has been harassed by a co-worker outside work, and in the craaazy chance this did happen, you can tell immediately upon meeting them for the first time that they’re the type of person to do that and also immediately find another job.

      2. Candice*

        I definitely think it’s bogus to have a list of everyone’s addresses as it does open the door to harassment. As a young female I would be concerned for my safety giving out my address to some of the male coworkers in my office. They are professional at work, but when nobody can see them during their personal time I don’t know them from anyone else.

      3. moe*

        There are all sorts of people I’d be comfortable working with in a group setting during the day, but who I’d rather not be required to give my address to. Anyone who has been followed, stalked, harassed, or so on, could well be sensitive about this, and I find your remark rather unsympathetic.

        1. JT*

          “and I find your remark rather unsympathetic.”

          Would you really be comfortable working with the sort of person who stalks people away from work, as long as you are in the relative safety of work? That’s what I’m getting at. Stalkers are the problem. Not staff having access to general info such as co-worked addresses.

          1. Ellie H.*

            You’re right, it’s not good to be around that sort of person at work either, so someone like that should be fired. That doesn’t change the fact that your address and phone number have now been distributed and you don’t have another choice besides moving or changing the number.

          2. KellyK*

            Unfortunately, stalkers don’t walk around wearing big “I’m a stalker!” signs. So, the more widely your personal information is distributed, the greater the potential for harm.

            That’s an issue not just if one of your coworkers themselves is a stalker, but in the case of a stalker outside of the company who simply knows where you work. It means that the stalker has a lot more people they can potentially get your information from.

            1. anon*

              This happens ALL the time. Stalkers know who to get to and how to charm them to get your info, and very often some well meaning person will try to help out your “cousin who is having an emergency and trying to reach you, but doesn’t have your number on him” and then bingo, you’re back to changing your number or looking for a new apartment again.

              Also, lots of people have stalkers and don’t want to have to tell every single coworker about it. When I had an issue, I did tell my boss, because he was a mentor and friend and I wanted him to know what was going on, just in case anything happened at work. But I certainly didn’t tell anyone else. It’s embarrassing.

            2. Natalie*

              And if one of your co-workers is discovered to be a stalker, even if they are let go they still have your information. So now you have to move if you don’t want them to have your address.

          3. moe*

            No, but lots of people have to work in conditions they find uncomfortable because they have to, like, eat. Pay bills. That sort of thing.

            And I wouldn’t stay in a job in which I was actively being stalked, absolutely. But I would keep working if I were just, say, getting a really bad feeling about somebody–where there’s no actionable stalking (yet!) but just “weirdness” that you’d normally respond to by keeping that person at a polite but firm distance.

            I think it’s totally reasonable for a person to object to being forced to give out personal information to a bunch of unknown quantities. It’s denying you the use of your instincts about people, which women especially learn to rely on.

            1. Anon in the UK*

              I had a colleague find my cellphone number off a distribution list and call me asking for a date. Twice.
              First time, I told him I wasn’t interested. Second, I let it go to voicemail and played the voicemail to HR.

      4. Jamie*

        “Really? You trust being in an office with them daily but don’t trust them knowing how to reach you outside?”

        Being able to reach you is a far cry from knowing where you live. I wouldn’t want people knowing my address, and they all know my husband is a cop. If that weren’t the case I’d guard that even more closely.

      5. KayDay*

        Since I was cited there, I’ll add my $0.02 that I think an address is a bit much. (Although, I wouldn’t mind in my current situation). I’m totally fine with people having my cellphone number, but I in some cases I might fell a little weird if a lot of people had such easy access to my address. I don’t think they are comparable at all. Also, if there is an emergency, it’s unlikely that people will be writing you a letter.

        In reality, however, it’s a moot point since it’s generally really easy for people to find your current and past addresses online. Try calling AMEX and have them verify your identity if you don’t believe me.

      6. Mishsmom*

        JT, when one is a 21 year old FEMALE, one has to be extra extra careful with any of their information at all times… trust me on this one.

      7. EngineerGirl*

        I’ll echo everyone else – I had a stalker from work use my personal number to contact me and harass me. Personal phone info should be available to only the manager and HR. There is no need for others to have the phone numbers. If they need to contact the worker, they can contact the manager who will decide if it merits a contact.

        1. KellyK*

          This is a very reasonable approach. As long as the company can reach people in an emergency, no one needs access to every coworker’s personal number.

          I’m sorry you were stalked, and I hope it’s stopped. That has to be terrifying.

        2. moe*

          Absolutely–and already you’re going to exchange cell phone numbers with the people who need it naturally, as you get to know them better.

          I think that’s something else that bugs me about this, the sort of forced collegiality that a lot of companies seem to have. I quite resent being pushed into weird false intimacies with people I just don’t know all that well. I’ll give you my number when I feel like it, dammit.

          And I’m sorry you went through that, EG.

      8. M-C*

        Even if luckily your stalker was not in your office, that doesn’t mean there may not be another one out there. And many if not most coworkers may innocently give out your address to a stalker if asked. I know how to handle a cell phone well enough to ignore a stupid sports text, or to not hear a call from someone I don’t want to talk to. I’d strenuously object to my home address being tossed around on lists. And I’m far from my 20s.

    2. Anonymous*

      Sorry, but I’m chuckling at the thought of “Oh no! It’s an emergency! We need to go to Anon@12:14pm’s house, stat!”. (It is pretty creepy though)

      1. Jess*

        I worked in an office with investigators and investigative interns who were often out speaking with clients and witnesses at all hours (though we encouraged them to go during the day whenever possible, if the strip club/homeless person/security guard is only available at certain hours, you go then). We had a call-in procedure for when you went out after hours- you called when you went out with the address and expected time home, and when you were home/back at the office you called back in. If you didn’t call, we called you. If you didn’t answer, we went to your house to make sure you were still alive…

        1. JT*

          In the last 10 years where I’ve worked, we’ve had three or maybe four instances to call everyone, and distributed that task around several people – major blackout, snow storm and one or two major hurricanes. HR (1.5 people out of 25-person office) took the lead but the rest of us were calling around too. Mainly just to make sure people didn’t waste time trying to come to work in crisis time. But I guess these were not really necessary – most people would have realized they shouldn’t come in even w/o messages. Oh, and We had some calling around in the days after 9/11 about when people would be coming back in.

          Our contact list is shared office wide and includes mobile phones, addresses and also emergency contacts such as partners or roommates phone #s. In my case, my mobile phone is usually turned off so I mentioned that to HR and so they list my home phone is the first place people try to reach me if I’m not in the office and not on email and it’s important/urgent.

          1. JT*

            Oh, and in the case of the storms, which we anticipated, our HR people reminded us to take printouts of the emergency contacts list home in case their own communications was disrupted and we needed to get messages out.

  7. Catherine*

    Good luck getting them to take it off (and I mean that seriously). I think your best bet is to make sure your supervisors know it’s for emergencies only and you can’t have random texts. Your HR person sounds like a jerk. I don’t much like that my personal cell is available for our office, but my office is pretty good about not calling. Also, if they do insist on calling, don’t pick it up. Let them leave a message. If it’s vital, they will leave a message and you can get back to them. If it’s not, they may not leave a message or you can determine if it’s necessary to call them back.

  8. Jamie*

    A good way to do it is to note which cell numbers are personal and to have a notation that they are not company phones and are only to be used in case of emergency.

    Also, while everyone should have number on file with HR to be contacted in case of emergency (when work is canceled due to weather, etc.) I don’t think they should be on the published list unless people are okay with getting work related calls on that line. No one should be obligated to provide a personal cell phone for work, imo, if they want to get you 24/7 they should pay for the phone/service.

    But then, that’s my world…OP’s world sounds horrible and your HR can stand to learn a thing or to about relating to humans if she’s going to be Human Relations.

      1. JT*

        HR can’t reach you due to problems at their end such as in a major storm.

        I guess we can just assume that if the roads are bad/etc don’t come to work, but people where I work are distributed in a variety of directions. A few times we’ve passed around info on office status early morning with HR in the lead but others helping out – our HR people weren’t knocked off telophony those times, but they wanted to be ready in case.

  9. Google Voice is your friend!*

    I would get a Google Voice account (I have one and I love it! Also great for calls from the pharmacy/Red Cross/people you don’t want to interact with in real-time). You can forward all messages to your personal cell without having to give them that one. But I guess it might be too late? Well, you’re new, so maybe if you replaced it now nobody will notice …

    1. Karyn*

      Was TOTALLY going to suggest this. And if anyone asks, just say you recently changed your number, and that’s that.

    2. Becky*

      +1 from me too. I love Google Voice (it also allows free texting, but I believe it does require a data plan to make use of that part on your phone).

      1. Anonymous*

        I was also going to suggest this. I have mine call to my home and cell numbers, and to not ring at night or on weekends.

    3. Laurie*


      Though to weigh in on the original question – it’s getting very common. My last two jobs my whole team had each others’ numbers and we’d text each other on work-related things. So far, my teams have respected my privacy, but I totally have a Google Voice number (from my own area code too!) handy for when someone crosses the line.

    4. mh_76*

      Agreed. You can choose where you forward your google voice #, whether it be to your personal cell or your work phone #. It also has a “do not disturb” feature like the one on your office phone. If you have the GV app on your phone/ipod/tablet, you can use that for texting and, of course, you can also use the web-based GV for text etc. One note, though: double-check your forwarding and do-not-disturb settings periodically to make sure that you don’t miss something that might be important.

    5. Stells*

      Yep! And you can have it go straight to voicemail and alert you via email when you get a message. I use mine because I have to make calls when I work at home, but I don’t want to use my daytime cellphone minutes (which, I never go anywhere near my limit but that’s not the point) when the company isn’t paying for them. Plus I do recruiting so the last thing I want is a job seeker having my personal number on their caller ID so they can contact me whenever, wherever.

      To the OP – set up a Google Voice account, and just, nonchalantly, notify HR, or whomever, that you’ve changed your cellphone number and that they need to update their list.

      They won’t even think twice about it.

    6. Jubilance*

      I was just about to suggest Google Voice. That way coworkers won’t have her “real” contact info, and she can block texts from those coworkers who are texting her inappropriately.

    7. Brightwanderer*

      It sounds like the poster is in the US, but just as a heads up, Google Voice is not available outside the US (not even in Canada), so it’s not a universal cure. I hope they do roll it out elsewhere, though – I’d really like to use it.

  10. Michael*

    Google provides a free service where you can get a new local number and you can then either leave it be or have calls routed to your actual phone. You could get one of these numbers and tell your work that you got a new number because, well, you did. Just check it in the mornings in case you get that anthrax warning. :-)

  11. KayDay*

    I think it’s totally reasonable that your company have a phone list with your number on it–I cannot think of a place I have worked where my phone number wasn’t somehow accessible to my co-workers (although, by accessible I mean they could find it/look it up if they wanted to–not every place actually distributed a list). I also can count on one hand the number of times someone from work (who I wasn’t friends with) called my cell phone.

    The problem with your office is that your HR is very rude and your texting co-worker is seriously abusing the list (I would be really annoyed if that happened to me, too). You, or someone higher up on the food chain needs to make sure everyone gets the message that the personal number are available in case of emergency only.

  12. Anonymous*

    I’ve never worked anywhere that did not have an employee contact sheet/directory for emergencies. How many numbers you had depended on the size of the organization, naturally, but I would be very surprised if I had a new hire resist this. It would definately reflect poorly in my current, smaller organization. Should an employee ask me to mark it “for emergency use” and explain the situation I would absolutely have a conversation with the other employee. But I would not take her off the contact list.

    1. cf*

      I have worked for 21 years in Miami, Austin, Houston, South America, Memphis, and Milwaukee. Fortune 50 companies, retail, small, family-owned, non-profit.

      I have never once – not once – needed to get a call at home from my employer, nor have I gotten one. I have never once thought, “If only they had called me!Then I wouldn’t have been exposed to anthrax!”

      1. Stells*

        Our company has them for days when the site is closed due to weather, but we don’t mandate it. We just make sure the employees know that if they drive in the ice or tornado or just waste the gas when their isn’t more work to do for that day (we are a production based environment so if orders are lower than expected that day we do voluntary time/days off) to come to work only to find out they need to go back home, it was because we didn’t have their number on file to contact them ahead of time.

        Some employees are fine with that since they’d rather protect their privacy. We’re okay with that too – unlike the OPs jerk of an HR person!

      2. Liz*

        I have regularly needed to be reached, or to reach my coworkers at all hours in almost all of the jobs I have held post-college. It depends on the nature of the work. Sometimes you need information immediately in order to respond to changing circumstances, and if so the person who has that info had better be available.

  13. Seal*

    Our department heads have an emergency contact list that includes home phone numbers and cell phone numbers. But it’s clearly stated that the list is for actual emergencies only, not social calls or texting; to my knowledge no one ever abuses it. Since your HR person sound like an idiot, you might bring this to her boss’s attention.

  14. anon*

    I have the personal phone numbers (cell and landline) of many coworkers to get in touch with them while they’re working from home or in case something comes up while they’re on vacation in a case I’m covering for them. I would never think that it would be ok to contact them on their personal phone about non-work stuff unless we had a social relationship outside of work (and could have gotten their contact info through that relationship). I think the purpose of the list of phone numbers needs to be clarified by management.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I agree with this, and like the way you put it. At Exjob, I had people’s cell phone numbers but they were work phones. We sometimes had to call them if they were out in the plant or on the road. But I never gave them out, even to customers. I would take a message and call the person and leave the caller’s information. I didn’t have their personal numbers, and often had to explain to angry clients “No, I don’t have his personal number. I can give you his voice mail and he can check it remotely.” Email was different; we had those on our website.

      The only time anyone ever called me was when I was out of town and my coworker accidentally borked a log-in. I had told him it was okay to call me, so it was no biggie.

  15. Adam V*

    Also, AAM, I’m not sure I agree with the “just one guy, just one time” caveat – once one non-work message goes out, I feel like it gives other employees the idea that that’s a proper use of the list, so I’d probably ask for someone authoritative to send out a reminder email that the list is for work purposes only – or alternately, if you’re not a fan of reprimanding everyone when one person breaks a rule, give that individual a friendly reminder.

  16. AnotherAlison*

    If someone complained about this, I think my PITA radar would go up. It seems like you can complain (and you do have a valid reason to), but then you’re the weird one who doesn’t fit in.

    I’m salaried with a fairly autonomous job, and I feel like there’s a reasonable compact between me and my employer about work time & my time. Sometimes, I’ll have to go to the dentist, pick up my taxes, go to the DMV, etc. on work time. . .and it’s not worth taking a full day off. . .sometimes, they’ll need me to answer a 2 minute question when I do have a day off. As for the random guy who might text you with non-business stuff, who knows what his motivation was. You’re new. Maybe he was joking around & thought he was being friendly. Once people figure out you aren’t going to be their friend, I doubt they’ll call or text you anymore. (And they’ll probably call you stuck up behind your back.)

    1. And if*

      And if you were not salary, would you be just as happy working for free- actually paying to work since they are reaching you on a phone that you are not being reimbursed for- when they call you to answer non important stuff on your time that could wait until the morning?

      My company has a list like this for our team- and I do not have a problem with that. But a few months ago, a big wig in the company started a new position overseeing the project as a whole (thousands of employees involved) and he wanted the cell numbers of everyone on the project in case he had any questions about what they were working on. I contacted my manager when we got the email and he talked to his boss who said to give whatever info the big guy wanted. Then I reiterated to both of them that I did not feel comfortable giving my personal cell number out to someone not on our team to contact me whenever he felt like it and who would they like me to charge for the time if he did (company policy is if given any task even for 5 minutes, to always get the AFE for where the time is to be billed) and then he realized that what I (and a few more of our team) was complaining about was that this guy had no need for my number and it was not being paid for. Then he told us to notate the questionaire as “NO COMPANY PROVIDED ELECTRONIC DEVICE” (company policy uses that wording when telling us not to use our cells on company time) and send back as such.

      Bottom line, if you are being paid for the time (and salary is being paid for the inconvenience of being able to be reached when THEY want to reach you) then it is reasonable for them to have your number. If you are not being paid for your time, then they need to realize that your PERSONAL information is YOURS.

  17. Anonymous*

    Ugh. My husband’s company does this. They do not pay for anyone’s cellphones, however their main form of communication is everyone’s cellphones. As in, he sits in an office all day but is more likely to receive a call to his cellphone from a fellow employee than to his office phone.

    Thank god we have an unlimited plan, because he gets calls up the wazoo and will get texted at 8:30pm if he fails to answer his cellphone. (We are young, his job is non-exempt… no way he should be getting calls at 8:30pm, especially when they don’t pay a dime towards his phone bill!) We HATE it.

    1. Anonymous*

      Oh, and he has brought this up to his manager before. He was told “We just envelope this cost in your overall salary.”

      Would’ve been nice to know this when they were negotiating salary….

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wow. An employer could say that about anything. Want to be reimbursed for picking up the catered lunch for the whole office? No, we envelope that into the cost of your salary.

      2. And if*

        Are you sure he is non exempt. Because if he is non exempt, the easiest way to correct the issue is to charge them a half an hour every time they call him at home. Non exempt means they have to pay you for hours over 40 hours. Now if you meant that he is exempt, he should have known it was exempt position when he took it. If that is the case,did he ASK about being reimbursed for personal expenses? When you are exempt, this is one of the questions you HAVE to ask before accepting the position/ pay.

        This is not an issue about boundaries (8:30 PM is not unreasonable, maybe 10PM is but not 8:30) but more an issue of poor communication. Your husband presumed that they would not call him when he left the office and they presumed since they made it clear he was non exempt that he would merely charge them for the time that he had to work from home and that amount they were paying him would pay for the use of his cell phone. Now even if they called and had him work for 30 minutes, at $10 an hour that would be $7.50 (time and a half) so that really should pay for the use of his cell phone.

    2. KellyK*

      That’s really ridiculous. He’s probably entitled to be paid for the time he spends fielding calls, and since you can’t get reimbursed for the minutes, you can probably claim it on your taxes.

      Personally, I’d be highly tempted to leave my cell phone off if it’s being abused that much. I’d especially turn it off at work, because how stupid is it to use minutes when someone can call you on the office phone?

      1. And if*

        Or here’s an idea. Do not answer the cell phone when you are at your desk if you recognize the # as a coworker. And if you are at home, don’t answer it if you do not want to work. If you are non exempt, you can choose if you want to work the OT.

    3. mh_76*

      Could he write off his cell-phone bills come tax time? I don’t know the answer (possibly yes) but it’s worth asking, though the company really should reimburse him for the bills if it’s their primary form of communication.

      He could also open a google voice number, change his work phone # to that, and field calls from his computer, would just need a USB headset-with-microphone that he could could plug in.

      Needless to say, I’m a big google voice fan…saves me from lots of spam calls re: my monster resume (I’ll only talk to local recruiters, as in ones that I can walk out my door and be at their “doorstep” in less than an hour…another topic entirely).

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        I believe you have to have a certain amount you are filing as work-related, non-reimbursed expenses. I’m not an accountant (but I think we have some around here) but I think that amount is $200 before you can claim it. And since it’s an unlimited phone plan, would the IRS go for claiming the entire phone bill since you can’t sort out the cost of the calls/texts for work? I kind of doubt it.

        I’m irritated that my husband and I have to buy a parking sticker each years to park on the campus where we teach and it’s not reimbursed in any way (and there is nowhere else to park). Not quite the same as the phone call irritation but still something employers can do to screw employees.

        1. And if*

          But you can see a log of time calls, simply take the time that was company calls, divide by the total time for the month and that gives you the % of use for company. You can then multiply monthly fee by that percent to get amount of bill to take on taxes. And if you keep your bill, you have proof if you get audited.

          As for the parking fee, again it is a case of poor communication. You could have asked for the salary to be $XXX more a year to make up for paying the parking fee. And it is possible that they felt they paid you $XXX more than you are worth to make up for the parking fee. Also, and without knowing where you are, they may feel that you might be able to take a bus or walk and therefore the choice to park was made by you and as such you decided that the price of $XXX was worth the cost because of the convenience.

  18. Paul*

    Many of my coworkers and bosses have my personal cell phone number and I have theirs, but we all know that it’s only for the most important of circumstances. Our office operates under the notion that evenings, weekends, and especially vacations are sacred and we should avoid interrupting people if at all possible. So for us, it’s not a problem – there’s mutual respect and understanding all around.

    I think that may be what you need to make understood around the office. Sure, banter and jokes between friends is fine – but Joe overhearing your passion for a sports team then texting you out of the blue about it is an awkward guy trying to make friends at best, and creepy and boundry-crossing at worst.

  19. Jason*

    If you work in Canada, you can complain to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. This is an invasion of one’s privacy, even if it IS a company policy (and a bad policy at that). You (clearly) didn’t even provide your consent to them using your personal information! At the very least, the list shouldn’t be made public to others within the company, except for upper management (who will contact you if there is an emergency, which would cut out any trivial matters of contacting you via your personal cell phone). A blatant invasion of your privacy.

    In addition, they shouldn’t be making you pay (re: your phone bill) in order to be available for the company 24/7. If they need to contact employees for work related reasons, then company phones should be issued to the employees BY the company, paid for BY the company.

    Take a look at the privacy laws in your area! I’d also ask your HR person for the company’s Privacy policy, which should elaborate on how the company safeguards you’re personal information, if they indent to sell your personal information to third parties, etc. You might assume they won’t do any of those things…but without a policy in place, how can you be sure they don’t?

    Be warned though, there could (definitely) be some backlash over this.

    1. A Bug!*

      I’m not sure these circumstances are actually protected by the Privacy Commissioner. In their FAQ it says “An employee’s name, title, business address or telephone number” isn’t protected by PIPEDA.

      Of course, it never really hurts to inquire with them if you’re curious and Canadian, LW.

      1. KellyK*

        From that, I’m not sure if “business” modifies “telephone number” as well as “address.” It could definitely be read either way.

        1. A Bug!*

          Yeah, for sure! I’m definitely not positive so it’s worth an inquiry if the letter-writer happens to be Canadian.

          Semi-related, I really have no idea why the Oxford Comma isn’t considered the standard.

          1. KellyK*

            I know. This is a case where it’s definitely needed. (I wonder what style they’re using, if any. Even AP says to use a serial comma if it’s needed for clarity.)

  20. Josh S*

    Get a Google Voice number. It’s free, you can have calls forwarded to your home/mobile phone (as you choose) and you can block calls or send them straight to voice mail. You can even send a call to voicemail and then listen in as the caller leaves a message. And record calls (though depending on your state, you may need to get the caller’s consent). It’s pretty great.

    I use a Google Voice number for all my professional communication and any time I’m asked to give a phone number to sign up for something. That way, I can block certain phone numbers or send them to VM, without worrying about ‘real emergencies’ being blocked too.

    Only friends/family get my ‘real’ cell number.

  21. Anonymous*

    I think there’s a huge difference between giving your personal numbers to HR/your manager for emergencies and publishing them to the company. We would never do that because users are always trying to get around the helpdesk (our helpdesk is truly awful) so getting a hold of our cell numbers would be like winning the lottery. Even if you need to call the oncall person, you must go through an automated system that dials us without revealing our number. I’m sure this is done more to protect our workloads than our privacy.

    I got request at a previous job to remove everyone’s home and cell numbers from our Global Address List on the email server because one of the employees was in hiding from her stalker ex-husband, a coworker passed him her phone number, he used it to find her address somehow and then allegedly beat her up. I got a panicked call from our legal team telling me to drop what I was doing and remove all personal numbers. If something like this happened to me and I was required to provide my info, I’ll admit I would sue the crap out of my company.

    1. Aja*

      Exactly – I don’t think it’s all common for the entire company to be given your personal phone number – your manager and HR, sure. But not the whole company.

  22. KellyK*

    I think that’s really unprofessional of the HR person.

    The first thing I would do would be to talk to the guy who texted you and politely ask him to knock it off. “Please don’t text me unless it’s urgent and work-related,” is a totally reasonable request.

    Secondly, I would ask that my number be marked as “for emergencies only.” Since you got such a crappy response from the HR person, maybe try your boss instead.

    If it becomes a major annoyance, I like the suggestion of switching to Google voice and checking those messages regularly, but not answering calls from coworkers.

    Also, since you have everyone else’s cell, you can put them in your contact list so you know who’s calling you. Random coworker you hardly interact with? Straight to voicemail.

    (Incidentally, I would dearly love to be able to set up an auto-reply to all incoming text messages of “H8 txting. Pls call.” For some reason, text messages annoy the heck out of me.)

  23. Living in Germany*

    It is illegal to give out someone’s personal telephone number without their permission in Germany!

    1. Ellie H.*

      I just spent 2 months there and I was really impressed by people’s commitment to privacy. Some aspects of it occasionally struck me as a bit unfriendly, from the American context, but in general I really appreciated it.

  24. Catherine*

    So how would you feel if your information, say cell phone, partner’s cell phone, personal email, and address were posted somewhere that most staff could get to? I work at a university and I’m in their HR database and their student information database. Anyone with the right level of access could look up where I live and swing by my house. Which is why it’s nice to have a dog that barks at strangers. (He also wags his tail, dances excitedly, and tries to lick the strangers, but hopefully the initial barking will get them to think twice…)

    1. Stells*

      My youngest Boston Terrier is the same way – he gets so excited and is so friendly that most people who don’t know him are scared of him. Granted he’s big for his breed, and will CHARGE at you and jump up on your legs (he wants you to bend down and hug him – not joking) – but to a stranger they think he’s trying to attack them!!

      I figure it might come in handy one day, but usually it’s just annoying because it’s a circus act to answer the door for the delivery guy.

  25. Zee*

    I understand where the OP is coming from, and I think it should be addressed in the office about its potential abuses. If the office needs to contact you ASAP, then your number should be available to them. However, sending a text message about the latest football game should be considered “abusive” unless you have established a “friendship” with a coworker. In other words, if you are comfortable talking with that person and share non-work related stories and such.

    I saw someone note above that their office gives out complete addresses. Some businesses do that to the general public! If the job requires the workers to have a license for the job, the license will list the worker’s complete address. I don’t know why they do it. I don’t believe that is right. Yes, there used to be phone books and now online websites can tell you where someone lives, but to have it stated on a license is a bit much for me. However, if you want the job, you have to have the license, which is issued by the state on their requirements and demands.

    Anyway, maybe approach the HR lady again, and tell her that there has been an issue with the list because you are receiving unsolicited and non-work related texts from coworkers (don’t name name). You want to be put down for emergency/work-related texts and calls ONLY!

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      Don’t you think they got her number off her application materials since she’s a new hire? She can hardly go now and tell them it’s one digit off.

      Google Voice is a better way to go.

  26. EngineerGirl*

    I had co-workers that truly abused the cell-phones, to the point where I now write in large letters FOR EMERGENCY ONLY next to any phone lists. I’m pretty snarly about it, and my new manager knows why.

    My father was very ill at the time, so I had to have my cell phone. When I was on vacation I was phoned several times daily for requests – where is this file? Where is that? This in spite of the fact that I had written up a very nice paper on where to find everything. Their response when I asked them about the paper? “Oh, it is way easier just to call you.” As I was doing volunteer environmental work on an Army base, I finally gave Dad the base commanders phone number and turned off my phone. It infuriates me to this day that those jerks at work interfered with my ability to contact my father just because they couldn’t be bothered to honor boundaries. BTW, I was only away for 6 days – on a 3 day weekend. All of it could really have waited.

    People that think it is OK to share personal data with co-workers haven’t been at the receiving end of the abuse of it.

    1. Yup*

      Sadly similar: my father was in the hospital for emergency throat surgery, and his colleague called the hospital room with a work question. True story. I walked in to hear my father rasping an answer to this dimwit. I took the phone out of his hand and gave the caller the coldest verbal beat down of his life. Truly, unless someone’s job involves transporting live organs or the like, I fail to see the urgency.

    2. M-C*

      Gee, that’s odd – my phone shows the number of the person calling, and even helpfully who it is. So why answer if you see it’s not your father?

  27. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I don’t find this to be an outrageous violation of privacy at all. It’s the norm at my company. The type of business I work in requires all positions to be staffed at certain points in the day. So, if someone calls in sick, we have to replace that person with someone else. Our preferred contact information (including cell phone numbers) are posted on a phone list in the department so that whoever is here can call in a replacement if someone is sick. There is no opt-out. It’s something you have to accept and understand if you’re going to do our type of work.

    1. Adam V*

      In your case, I’d probably go buy a pre-paid cell phone and use it just for company calls, so that all expenses for that phone could be taken into account at tax time.

      (What type of business is this, if you don’t mind me asking?)

      1. Lala*

        Not the previous commenter ,
        Im in IT , and we contact each other via cellphone .
        It’s not a company provided number , but they reimburse us a flat amount for the bill.
        We are on 24/7 support.
        They own us for that extra $25 a month !!

        Our numbers are posted in a list.

  28. Kim*

    I don’t know if this has been suggested, but I actually use a google number for all of my business calls. The great thing about this is

    1) It all goes to the same phone – no extra prepaid phone or etc.

    2) You can silence any call and it will send you a translated text message of the voicemail. This is a great time saver to actually listening to voicemails when people keep calling you constantly.

    3) It’s got a great blocking tool. I love it. It also does list – for example, put this number directly to voicemail, etc.

  29. NewReader*

    I wondered if the culture is such that the employees are like family to each other- therefore the constant contact. (I am not big on constant contact- but some people have to have it.)

    Where I live cell service is iffy- on a good day. Non-existent most days. How would this company function in an area similar to mine? I cannot receive cell calls here. The caller has to dial my land line.

    You know, OP, your cell could suddenly have a tragic accident…….fall into a toilet or meet the new pup, etc.

  30. Cassie*

    I was just thinking about this today because my boss was asking me for the cellphone # of one of his students (we have a list on our password-protected wiki site, which the group has access to). Since they are students that sit in the lab, I bet most of them have each other’s numbers all ready.

    For the staff in our dept, however, HR has emergency contact numbers for us, but the list isn’t circulated. I rarely text people, unless there’s a specific purpose (e.g., I’ve gone home for the day and I forgot to lock my drawer, can you take my laptop and lock it up in your drawer?). I see texting as being more “personal” and not really professional so I wouldn’t use it to conduct business unless it was urgent and the person was in a meeting that couldn’t be interrupted with a phone call.

    I know some coworkers do text each other (including a supervisor who gripes about work and other people). Even though I have a couple of coworkers that I’m more friendly with – I definitely would not be texting vents.

    Anyway, I would also suggest Google Voice for free texts and to use as a disposable number (of sorts). As for getting unwanted/unwelcome texts from coworkers – I would suggest talking to the coworker directly. I don’t have unlimited texting so I wouldn’t be happy when people text me random stuff.

    In regards to addresses, back when I was in high school and was in a dance group, they used to type up a list of the dancers, their parents names and their home addresses. I guess it was in case parents wanted to figure out carpools and stuff, but it was pretty much unnecessary. (They eventually stopped listing addresses – just cell numbers).

  31. nurse*

    I didn’t see any nurse comments. Our home, cell, parent’s and even boyfriend’s numbers are often given to the hospital due to being on call. I have been called while on vacation for scheduling questions, to sign up for the call schedule, and just because someone did not look to see I was actually out of town. Most often I am called in the middle of my sleep during the day by work people when they know I work third shift! I know this is part of our job but is does feel like an invasion of your privacy.

  32. Anonymous*

    It is not unusual in newspaper newsrooms for there to be an extensive list of staff members, including land line, cell phone and other emergency contact for times when the writer, editor or photographer may need to be called out to cover some emergency. Numbers were not to be given out to non-staff people; we would take messages and relay them, though.

    In one place I worked, we started out with company-provided phones. Federal tax law required employees to reimburse the company for personal use of the phone or else it was a heavily taxed perk, but a lot of employees didn’t file their reimbursements (has this dumb law finally changed?). So then corporate found a discount plan employees could use, but employees had to supply their own phones; there was a monthly reimbursement at a flat rate. Over several years while wages were frozen, the reimbursement was reduced, reduced again, then supervisors were told only non-exempt staff would get reimbursements. I’m not sure if anyone gets reimbursements there any more, but staff members are expected to have cell phones.

    Recently I saw a newspaper in my state advertising for newsroom staff. They said applicants had to have iPhones. Another job in New England wanted applicants to have their own video cameras. No mention of reimbursement in either case. Reporting is getting to be like auto repair, where the employee has to supply all the tools — except, of course, that auto repair pays a heck of a lot more.

  33. Moni*

    Hey all, i know i am a bit (a lot) late for posting here but still, it’s the best blog i found so far.
    My company gave 2 choices :
    1- use my phone number and they will pay all the fees
    2-they buy me a number and pay for all fees.

    i was thinking that they should buy me a new one so that i do not give my personal number. But i was also thinking that maybe i should use my personal number so that if I leave the company i work for, people can still contact me on my number (Public Relations). can someone please advice on what is the best way to adopt in order to make my decision?

  34. Dude*

    Is it legal to have your home address in a emergency contact list? I can understand phone numbers, but your home address? I have coworkers that aren’t exactly on my “cool coworker” list and for them to know where I live pisses me off!

  35. Ricky Giggabu*

    I remember before cell phones were in just about everyone’s hand — home telephone numbers were commonly distributed at work but with a bit more protected privacy.

    If someone didn’t want their home phone number posted to co – workers, this would be honored respectfully! Now a days in a PC job place you would think that an employee’s privacy would be honored before that employee calls their attorney about being harassed by co – workers after hours cause the company has handed out privately owned cell phone numbers to their employees.

    This issue should be implemented on a case by case and not blanketed or the company might just might end up cutting a check after a law suit is filed.

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