what’s the etiquette for calling coworkers outside of normal work hours?

A reader writes:

My husband called a coworker Tuesday night after 10:30 pm and talked until almost midnight about business. This person was also on vacation. This was not an emergency call and I feel, regardless of whether the coworker kept the communication going, that my husband was out of bounds in making this call. Was he?

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Chocolate lover

    The nature of my jobs/offices does not necessitate phone calls at that time of night. It would not be OK at all. But as Alison said, in some places, it’s not unusual or even the norm.

    It’s a moot part for me for me personally- I’m always asleep by 10:30 and I put my phone on silent at night, so I’ll just sleep through it anyway :)

  2. Engineer Girl

    I’m going to disagree with Alison’s answer for one reason – the economy and the ability to say “no” without reprisal.
    Take a look at the numbers – many Americans aren’t using their vacation hours because they don’t want to be viewed as slackers. They are still scared of lay-offs. This goes to answering after hours calls and vacation calls. Even if the co-worker wasn’t in management, most people would be nervous about saying “no” to the request.
    I think the husband was horribly out of bounds because a) it was non-emergency (it could wait) and b) the co-worker was on vacation. Worse, if it was a non-emergency it probably could be handled by e-mail, a far less intrusive method. If the co-worker didn’t agree to this ahead of time, the husband was in the wrong.
    The whole point of vacation is to pull away, gain perspective, recharge. This is especially true of “thinking” positions. The work related phone calls means that the employee can never disengage to the point of being refreshed. If this were a physical thing it would turn into an over-use injury.
    I’ve had co-workers call me for non-urgent calls. I end up categorizing them as having poor judgment as they can’t discern the difference between important and non-important issues. My willingness to work with them in the future goes down significantly.

    1. Engineer Girl

      One more thing that companies don’t realize. Support from the workers family helps someone’s performance at work. Calling a co-worker on vacation and late at night is very likely to get them on the family member’s dirt list. You are essentially taking time away from other family members and placing your own wants above their needs. Do you really want others to start bad mouthing your company because it can’t offer work-life balance?

      1. Mike C.

        Seriously, this is a huge point. I can’t express how awesome my wife is when she steps in while I work a whole bunch of overtime. There’s no way I’d be able to do that and stay sane without her.

      2. Joey

        Eh, but American companies in general are requiring more hours from their workers. It’s not like you’re the odd man out if you don’t offer good work life balance. Sadly there aren’t a whole lot of places you can go if your boss requires you to never disengage.

        And Id argue that in most jobs it’s impossible to truly disengage. Because who doesn’t dread coming back to a few hundred unanswered emails, tons of vm’s, and the stack of to do’s that have been accumulating outside your door while you were on the beach.

        1. Sans

          See, that’s the thing. We convince ourselves that most companies expect to be able to call you at night, on vacation, etc. And I just don’t think that’s true. I’ve never worked for a company that requires that. I have friends in many industries, and I can’t think of anyone who has that kind of expectation. Once in a while in an unusual situation, yes — but not all the time.

          Sure, I’m relying on anecdotal data, but it’s over 30 years of working and 30 years worth of friends and acquaintances in a major metropolitan area. Maybe the higher ups — VPs — have this kind of expectation in most companies, but I don’t think it’s the norm for other positions.

          1. Melissa

            Yeah, I’m a Millennial – in the purported generation where we were raised to expect this sort of thing – and virtually all of my friend work in jobs that do not expect you to be on-call 24/7. In fact, most of them work jobs that they largely leave at work at 5 or 6 pm. Most of my extended network works in one of two major metropolitan areas as well.

        2. Engineer Girl

          Here’s where the “everybody is doing it” logic fails:
          * Companies with work / life balance are able to attract superstars. This becomes a discriminator when you are trying to attract the best and brightest.
          * Superstars always have options. If you can’t draw boundaries the superstars will leave.
          * Superstars get turned into mediocre players because you’ve burned them out.

          This is an HR and management issue, because the inability to offer work / life balance is a management problem. Companies that burn out their workers die a slow death. It may take 20 years to go down, but go down they will.

          1. Joey

            the thing is though many companies define superstars as those who live to work. The ones who accept that theyre guidance is wanted/needed 24/7. There aren’t many folks I’ve seen classified as superstars who don’t want to put in long hours. They just want to be rewarded and treated as such.

            1. Engineer Girl

              You’re basically saying face time is more important than results. This is one of the hallmarks of bad management.

              1. Joey

                Well no. I’m saying a lot of people are high performers and work a ton of hours simply because they want to get more stuff done.

                1. Engineer Girl

                  I had to respond to this comment because it bothered me so much.
                  High performers work a lot of hours because they enjoy what they are doing. But there is a huge difference between someone willingly working a lot of hours and coworkers/management demanding someone work a lot of hours. It also doesn’t distinguish the difference between someone willfully being at work Vs demanding work during down time (at home or on vacation).
                  Rest is critical for innovation. Someone can work around 5 years at top speed before burning out. That isn’t a superstar as a superstar manages to perform long term. All the true superstars I’ve met manage their time very well. They don’t spend all their hours at work. All of the major superstars in my industry had other things going on in their lives – family, hobbies (water polo, rock climbing, model A cars), benevolence (rescuing refugees, Habitat for Humanity, etc.)

              2. M-C

                +1 That’s an exact summary of this push for “productivity”.. Mind you, by now most people are well practiced at doing their own thing while putting in facetime, so the companies are also victims of their own greed and stupidity.

        3. Windchime

          I would argue that it’s NOT impossible to truly disengage, unless you are the only neurosurgeon within 100 miles so you are on call 24/7. I dread coming back to work piled up, too, but the reality is that out of those several hundred emails in my inbox, most have them have been resolved during the week I was away, and many of the rest are FYI-type of emails.

          1. Jamie

            Depends on the job and how we define disengagement.

            I enjoy my days off and I love my weekends but I need to be reachable 24/7 in case I’m needed.

            In my case it’s not constant, any time I spend working doesn’t get pulled from my PTO for that day, people are (now) good at defining what is and isn’t an emergency so it doesn’t bother me.

            So sure, I can disengage to the extent I have a life outside of work, but turning my phone off, being unavailable via email for long stretches of time, or being unable to remote in if needed isn’t an option for me. So I would say I’m never fully disengaged because in the background is always the reminder that I need to have my phone on and could be hijacked at any time. Even at bed, plugging into the dock and turning the volume up in case I’m needed in the night is a reminder that I am always on call.

            This is nothing for some people (like the OP’s husband), would be an untenable tether for others, and for me it works as long as I feel I’m compensated for the inconvenience.

            It’s not the importance of the job in the grand scheme of things, I’m no nuerosurgeon, it’s how the company is structured. If X needs someone on call 24/7 and you’re the only one who can deal with X you either accept it or find a better fit.

            1. Jaydee

              Or the company needs to have two people who can deal with X so no one person is on-call 24/7/365. What would they do if you died? Can you never go take a vacation somewhere with spotty cell reception? What if you went camping and your phone fell in a lake and you couldn’t get it replaced for two days? It’s bad for an employer to be too reliant on any individual without having a backup plan in place if that person is unavailable. Doctors rotate on-call shifts. Teachers have substitutes. Even the President has the Vice President. Who is your Joe Biden?

              1. BenAdminGeek

                Oh man, I just imagined Joe Biden coming to fill in for me. Coupled with the meme of Joe looking out the window pensively, it really made me laugh. Good thing I work remote, so I only disturbed the cat!

      3. SevenSixOne


        My husband and his colleagues may not mind when he makes work calls 24/7 (because that’s just the nature of this industry!!!), but sometimes I sure do!

  3. Steve G

    The hour stuck out at me, 10:30 is too late. However, I never really cared if I talked to coworkers at my last job when I was off. I was in a startup and there was always something going on, and I was friends with the people there, so sometimes I even called to get the scoop on what was going on! I didn’t think about these as “work calls,” more like talking to any other friend/family member/neighbor

    1. sunny-dee

      I’m trying to find a way that this isn’t as horrible as it seems. Maybe the OP is on the East Coast, but the person was on vacation in the West Coast, so 10:30pm was really 7:30pm?

      Otherwise, I simply don’t see how this wasn’t horribly rude and uncalled for (pardon the pun).

    2. AnotherFed

      I think the hour depends a lot on the overall culture. I work with a lot of software developers for one of my projects, and to them, a 10:30PM call is perfectly acceptable, but a 10:30AM call is not because they are at best likely to be on their drive in to work. Other places I’ve worked would have thought it totally unacceptable to call after 7PM, but 6AM would be just fine.

  4. Anonsie

    I always get the opposite of this– I’ll get a page as I’m getting ready for work in the morning or on my way in. I don’t mind it except that I can’t access what they’re asking for when they catch me on the bus, so I can’t actually help most of the time.

  5. Lily in NYC

    The fact that it was that late, not an emergency, and that the guy was on vacation means that yes, he was out of line. And some people just aren’t comfortable pushing back about these things. I know there are office cultures where this is the norm, but I’m sure glad I don’t work in one!

  6. Adjunct Gal

    I don’t call ANYONE at 10:30 at night, unless maybe someone died. The latest I call people is at 9:30 at night, and that’s one specific person because I know that when she’s home, and that’s still rare.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Yeah, 9:00 has always been my guideline. But I frankly start to feel awkward around 8.

      1. ThursdaysGeek

        I try to make sure calls are ended by 9:00, although that’s mostly because that’s when I start getting ready for bed. But I was taught, back when phone calls involved rocks and jungle vines pulled tight, to not call before 7am on weekdays, 9 or 10 on weekends, and not after 9pm. Be considerate, and try hard to not wake people up with a phone call.

    2. Joline

      I don’t call after 10pm. I’ll maybe text a bit later – especially people where I know they leave their phone on silent – with the expectation that if they’re up they might answer and if not they won’t.

      I admittedly get really nervous if people call me after 10pm. I also assume someone has died. Which might in part come from answer a call at 2 in the morning where that was the case while I was a teenager. It’s apparently scarred me.

      (the case that Allison mentions where you’re e-mailing or texting back and forth and someone suggests calling is different – they you both know you’re up and willing)

      1. Jamie

        I think it’s great you are considerate of those you know who don’t silence their phone.

        I sleep with my phone in a dock and the volume up to 11 because I get texts alerting me if the servers go down and if we lose power at work as well as the rare call from someone on an overnight shift for an emergency. So I’m always annoyed when people who know this, and who love me, forget and just send chatty texts because they happen to be up in the middle of the night.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          There are apps you can use to block or greenlight specific numbers or contacts during set hours. I think the one I use is called Agent. I have it set to silence all notifications overnight, with a greenlight for phonecalls from my husband, parents, in-laws, and sister (basically, the people for whom I would drive to the hospital in the middle of the night).

          1. Jamie

            I’ll look into that, thanks. I’d only have to redlight a couple of people who I love, but seem to forget that I’m not a vampire.

      2. Jessa

        The other issue is people who are night people. Call me at 3 am? No problem. Call me at 7am? You die cause you woke me up. You really have to know your audience. Yes back in the day of landlines our house was 9am to 9pm for calls, my father made it clear to my friends, because the phone rang all over the house and disturbed the entire family. With personal phones, that’s not as big a deal any more, you’re not going to wake up the whole house if you call someone.

        1. Anx

          Yep. I get many calls in the the morning that disrupt my sleep. I would much, much rather get a 3am than 7am call. Darn social norms.

    3. Meg Murry

      The only ways I could see this being ok are:
      -Calling on vacation is normal, co-worker told him to call as needed.
      -Either co-worker is a known night owl like Alison OR he was traveling to a different time zone where it wasn’t so late
      -The example Alison gave where they were either exchanging emails or IMs back and forth and the co-worker said ‘just call me” or “please give me a call at 10:30 on Tuesday to talk about this”

    4. Mints

      I honestly can’t remember the last time I called someone past like, 8, without an email or text conversation assuring me they’re available. 10:30 is pretty inappropriate if they weren’t sure

  7. Alex

    I’m sort of in the camp of this being totally out of line as well… I know there are people out there who wouldn’t feel comfortable letting that call go to voicemail, and since this was a non-emergency, it feels really inappropriate. Even if that is their relationship or work-style, I still think a text first would have been better at least.

    1. LMW

      If someone from work was calling me at 10:30 pm, when I’m on vacation, I’d assume it was some sort of dire emergency. I’ve never worked in an environment where that was at all appropriate, and I’d be pretty angry at the caller (and really doubt his/her professional judgement).

      1. Jamie

        Me too. Honestly, I’m fine with my having to be constantly available, but I’d be shocked if someone did this to me. Email is fine – if I’m up and reply and want to talk, fine. But 10:30 phone call for a non-emergency? Nope.

        Of course as Alison said, depends on the culture, maybe other types of jobs do this when inspiration strikes or whatever. I’m just glad I’m not in such a culture.

        I even answer the phone different when it’s late because it would only be an emergency – I can’t imagine how someone would feel if they heard my “this is Jamie, what’s wrong?” in that voice that says I’m clearly getting up and grabbing my laptop if they were just calling to kick something around.

        I hate the phone enough as it is – if this happened to me it would turn into a full blown phobia I’m sure.

        1. The IT Manager

          I am going to try to start answering all the phone calls that wake me up at night with “This is me. What’s wrong?” Of course I’ll have to remember that when I’m half asleep, but it conveys the right level of alarm for someone to be waking me up at night.

          1. K.

            I have totally answered calls that woke me up with “What happened?” There was a point a little over a year ago where I was dealing with a dying relative and other personal issues so every time the phone rang late at night or early in the morning, I assumed tragedy had struck.

            1. Jean

              Sorry you had that experience. It’s hard to answer the phone during a season of keeping watch for a seriously ill relative or friend.
              I also agree that late-night calls elicit alarm like almost nothing else. Anyone who calls after 10 pm gets my “who’s in the ER/on an ambulance?!” voice.

      1. Melissa

        No, I was thinking the same thing! They’re instructing job applicants to write paragraphs instead of bullets and to put a summary (basically, an objective) at the top. And what is with people instructing you not to use Times New Roman so you “stand out”? If your font is the only thing making you ‘stand out’, then you’ve got problems; furthermore, if the company is so pedantic as to actually care which font I choose to use (and I’m not a graphic designer), maybe I don’t want to work there.

  8. Cath in Canada

    Only if something’s on fire.

    10:30 is too late for anyone to call me on a weeknight. I have the automatic “do not disturb” setting on my phone scheduled from 10pm until 6:30am every day, because time zone confusion and pocket dials have resulted in a couple of middle-of-the-night calls from family and collaborators in other parts of the world. (I have it set so that if I get a second call from the same number within three minutes of the first, the phone will ring – but otherwise, it won’t ring or vibrate for any reason. I highly recommend this strategy!)

    1. TootsNYC

      Wow, that’s a really nice strategy! What a great setting to have available on your phone.

      1. Ann Furthermore

        I have it on my phone too. The app is called Assist on Motorola phones.

        1. Judy

          There used to be a part of Android called “smart actions” that did this, and was even more flexible than assist. You could even turn off your data if you wanted during your sleep time, to not even use battery on things you don’t want anyway.

          I haven’t figured out how to make assist do that.

          1. Mints

            Oh, nostalgia. That was THE BEST app. I have one that does some basic stuff (smart connect) but smart actions had more customization

      1. LQ

        If you go into the DND settings you can schedule it or turn it on manually. They also have the option for repeated calls.

      2. Sunflower

        Go into settings- Do Not Disturb and there’s a scheduled setting you can turn on. I actually have mine scheduled for 8am-4pm. I’m getting texts and other alerts all through the day and for some reason when my phone vibrates, it sounds like someone kicked a desk over it’s so loud

    2. Persephone Mulberry

      I have DND at night, too, and I have a few numbers (spouse, mom, sister) programmed in as exceptions so that their calls (but not texts) come through, because if one of them is calling that late, it’s an emergency.

      1. jhhj

        I set up the same thing. All notifications are off from 11 pm to 8 am except for alarms and any contact from family members and a few friends who would never, ever abuse it. It’s fantastic.

  9. Joe

    Last year my father passed away suddenly, and the funeral was scheduled for a Saturday morning that week. My brother, an associate in a big law firm, flew in that morning from the West Coast to attend the funeral. About 10 minutes before the procession, he got a call on his cell.

    My mother glared at him as he took. the. call. From his boss, the lead partner in his group. My brother stepped away, and wound up on the call until after the Eucharist (this was a Catholic Mass).

    Afterward I asked my brother WTH was that about. He said his boss was meeting the client and the client’s girlfriend for golf that morning so the boss needed an update on what my brother completed on the flight back East (oh, and the client’s married, natch). The partner said he knew the funeral was happening, but the client’s needs come first. After all, the Mom is gone, but the client’s revenue will continue.

    So, you know, a call from 10:30 to midnight is not much compared to that.

    1. puddin

      I am certain the client would not want his business to interrupt the funeral for a business associates’s family member. If I were the client I would ream the partner out for that.

      I know some people are jerks and would disagree with me – yes I just said you are a jerk if you disagree with me on this (maybe not the reaming out part but definitely the principle of the matter).

      1. Joe

        Are you ready for this? I said something like that, namely that I imagine the client would be mortified if he knew the funeral was going on. My brother said indeed he started to say something like that, and the partner cut him off. The partner said he explained his team was unavailable because of the funeral, and the client said he had plans with his girlfriend after golf from Saturday midday until Monday evening when he had to meet up with his wife for a charity function, so they needed to move forward over the golf outing. The client said the reason he pays such high hourly rates is so that the attorneys step up and understand that business comes before “transitory personal things.” Direct quote.

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          This makes me growly, and the client is a major jerk. Sounds like if your brother had turned off the phone and missed the call, it would have been bad for him, so he didn’t have a good choice available.

        2. I'm a Little Teapot

          My God. That is one of the worst boss stories I have ever heard. The client is just as bad – seriously, playing golf with his mistress has priority over someone’s father’s funeral?? The level of selfishness here boggles the mind. It also infuriates me when people this horrible are rich and successful.

          Are comments eligible for Worst Boss of 2015?

          1. ThursdaysGeek

            Yeah, this should go on the list! Although, I think it’s the client that’s the worst.

            1. Jaydee

              Nope, boss is the worst. Attorneys have ethical obligations to their clients that may sometimes necessitate late nights and inconvenient interruptions. But there is no ethical obligation to be a doormat. You can set boundaries with your clients.
              But this client (who sounds like an abhorrent human being) is right. He is paying for this level of availability. That doesn’t mean the boss has to sell that availability. Let someone else get the highest fees and be unable to keep associates on staff and die of a stroke at 40 or develop a cocaine addiction (these are not mutually exclusive, I know).

              And honestly, this wasn’t a matter of business being a higher priority than “transitory personal things.” It was a matter of the client’s transitory personal things (golf game; plans with girlfriend) being more important than anything else. Because a non-evil client would have said “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear about Wakeen’s father. I was really hoping we could hash things out during the golf game because I have plans the rest of the weekend. But let’s just talk as much as we can now, and you give me a call later on once you’ve talked to Wakeen. I’m sure I’ll need a break from the [boring opera Lucretia is dragging me to/fancy-pants gala where insufferable people will be begging me for money/hours of tantric sex Lucretia and I will be having before I have to go to a boring opera or insufferable fancy-pants gala with my wife] anyway. And do give Wakeen my condolences when you talk to him.”

              Moral of the story: Just because a client is willing to buy your soul doesn’t mean you have to sell it.

          2. Jean

            I think we need to expand the awards to include Worst Boss/Client Couple, where “Worst” = “most distinctly destructively co-dependent.” By interrupting one lawyer’s father’s funeral to extort attention to the client and his _mistress_, this duo insulted _two_ families in one phone call! Phooey.

        3. puddin

          Time to fire the customer. The boss really needed to step up in that situation. You teach people how to treat you.

        4. Kiwi

          Socially high functioning psychopaths do very well in business. Sadly, seeing humans as units of production and feeling little anxiety for their needs and human frailties is really top notch medicine for being able to step on other people and get ahead.

          As to the accuracy of my internet “diagnosis” … I’m comfortable that the story speaks for itself (“transitory personal things”!).

    2. Rita

      If I were a client and found out this happened, I would fire this firm immediately.

      1. Jessa

        Yes, if I were a client of this firm and found out that they let another client do this, I’d find another firm and tell them why. AND tell all my colleagues and any companies I did business with not to use them as well. That’s beyond unreasonable. I would do my level best to make sure nobody I knew was using a firm that awful.

      2. Victoria, Please

        I’d like to hope that if I were the firm, I’d fire the goddamn client!

    3. Victoria, Please

      Wow. And here I was wondering if John Grisham’s novels are realistic!

    4. BananaPants

      OH HELL NO.
      I sometimes thought that my husband’s cousin’s stories of BigLaw awfulness were exaggerated. Clearly they were not.

  10. AllieJ0516

    Playing devil’s advocate – I wonder if maybe the time was pre-arranged? Maybe husband had texted the vacationer asking when they’d have time to talk? I know when I’m on vacation, there are times that after dinner and a couple of drinks, I just have some downtime before I turn in. Maybe there was also a different time zone involved? If none of this factors in, and it was just a “surprise” call to the coworker, no – that’s out of line.

    1. Meg Murry

      Yes, I mentioned above that the time would be ok if it were either pre-arranged or there was a time zone difference. I could see my husband (who sleeps way less than me in general) asking someone to call him after the kids and I were in bed so as not to interrupt family time. He does this now with people that are friends/coworkers -if they call in the 6-8:30 timeframe he’ll answer the phone, talk for maybe 1-2 minutes and then tell the other person he’ll call back after the kids are in bed.

    2. AnotherFed

      Even if not pre-arranged, it’s a good point that people’s vacation schedules are often pretty different from normal schedules and they are likely to be out doing things during the day, but also up later at night because they don’t have to get up for work in the morning.

  11. Meg Murry

    When I read the original title of the post and the first line:

    My husband called a coworker Tuesday night after 10:30 pm and talked until almost midnight

    I was expecting to the next part to be about the coworker being a woman and whether they were having an affair, etc, not the part about vacation – so I was pleasantly surprised that this wasn’t one of those letters.

    1. RA

      I expected the same thing and am still not 100% certain that wasn’t part of it. The LW didn’t say whether the co-worker was male or female.

      1. Jamie

        Why would that matter. Bosses annoy their female employees in a platonic fashion just as much as the guys.

        It just bothers me that lacking any kind of evidence that would point to this people’s minds still go there with a co-ed boss/employee dynamic. I don’t get on this particular soap box often as others tend to do it so much better than I, but the knee jerk reaction that women are somehow sexual threats in the workplace doesn’t help us. Evidence of this mindset is used to keep us from positions where we’d kick ass because of “what it would look like to other people” and “my wife wouldn’t like me working so closely with another woman.”

        1. Pennalynn Lott

          I was thinking it, too, and it popped into my head because the wife is upset by the phone call. I’m in the camp that thinks 10:30 is too late for a business call, but if both parties are OK with it then I got nothin’. I’m having trouble coming up with reasons for the wife to be upset, beyond being worried about basic phone etiquette (which, to me, doesn’t seem to rise to the level of needing to write to a management blog, as long as both parties on the phone are OK with the late-night call). So, yes, my mind jumped to, “The wife could be upset because her husband called a female co-worker late at night about a non-emergency while co-worker was on vacation just because he wanted to talk to her.”

          1. Lindsay J

            My view on the chain of events was that the wife told her husband that it was rude to call so late. Husband disagreed and said that it was totally fine to call so late. Small argument ensued. Wife wrote to Allison to get an outside opinion/last word on who was right.

        2. sunny-dee

          1) It never says that the husband is the other person’s boss — the OP explicitly says “coworker,” so I’d assume they’re roughly the same level.

          2) I have to admit, my mind went there for a second, too. Mainly because the hour is so odd, the person should have been very obviously unavailable, and the call lasted a really, really long time over a minor issue. There seems like there has to be a reason for that kind of call, and TPS reports just don’t do it for me.

  12. Zahra

    Yikes. That would totally not fly with me.

    The only time it would work is if the person, by her own volition, mentioned that she’s available if there’s anything during her vacation. Still, I’d keep it to emergencies or things that need to be dealt with during that person’s absence and more information is needed.

    And calling during a funeral? That’s beyond the pale. The only thing I would do is put the phone in Do Not Disturb mode if it wasn’t already the case. Too bad so sad for anyone else. Immediate family death and emergencies take precedence over work and any employer that can’t understand that isn’t one I would want to work for.

  13. the_scientist

    I’m also in the camp of it being pretty out of line…..the person is on vacation? It’s 10:30 at night? It’s not an urgent matter? No no and no. Plus, like Mike C and others said- think of all the family goodwill that this call may have burned. Now this person’s spouse/partner/family is going to be rolling their eyes every time OP’s husband calls. “Oh it’s Misplaced-sense-of-urgency Mike. What non-important thing is he interrupting us for this time?” Especially on a family vacation, which many people treat as sacred, valuable time to connect with their spouse and/or kids and de-stress/re-energize.

    The power dynamic thing is also an important point. My old boss hated email and loved phone calls, and loved to “talk through things” with whoever she could find. At about three weeks into that job, she requested a late-night phone call to go over some decisions. I don’t think it was anything that couldn’t have waited until the morning, but I didn’t feel like I was in a position to refuse. At that time, I also had a 3-hour round-trip commute, meaning that I often didn’t arrive home until well after 7 p.m., was up before 6 a.m. and was out of the house for at least 12 hours a day. A 10:30 p.m. phone call was past my bedtime and boss kept me on the phone for a LONG time. I’m pretty sure the program manager took the boss aside the next day and said “hey, this is maybe NOT the precedent we want to set with our brand-new employee?”, because it didn’t happen again.

  14. Anonymous Educator

    I think it really depends on the nature of the work, but since this particular situation is a “non-emergency,” I’m going to join other folks here in saying this call was out of line.

    I can think of a couple of situations in which a 10:30 call was warranted, and they were all time-sensitive emergencies. One involved talking to my boss about calling a candidate who might possibly be taking a job somewhere else. Another involved logistics for a huge admission event that was taking place the next day.

  15. CK

    I love Alison’s answer. At my current job many of my colleagues work abnormal hours and a late night call to discuss work-related topics isn’t unusual. It’s all a matter of company culture.

    1. AnotherFed

      This. Especially if the coworkers are also friends, casually talking through a problem (especially one related to personnel) when there’s plenty of time and no concerns about unpolished thoughts causing bigger issues.

      That said, my coworkers may have boundary issues – we all work some crazy hours, we know each other well enough to know who’s likely to be up late or not, and most of the spouses know the coworkers and other spouses. A situation like the LW’s would probably just trigger some teasing and possibly an alcohol gift to the spouse of the employee on the phone while on vacation.

    2. Susan


      The company I work for now, and especially the team I work for, people are around all hours. I’ve never worked with a team that’s so connected, so it’s really not unusual to hear “and we were up until 2 am talking about it” . These are people who are so embedded in the tech they work with that they experiment with it in their time off. It’s also a team that works across the country and 90% work from home, so lines get blurry.

    3. doreen

      In my mind, there’s a difference between “work-related” and “work”. I don’t want to hear about a non-emergency situation that involves actual work on my part at 10:30 pm while I’m on vacation – but there’s work-related stuff that I want to hear about right away (the chair of the agency suddenly resigning after an investigation by the IG , someone I knew who was shot in the office) and even more that I don’t mind talking about when I’m on vacation. The people who call me about these things aren’t just random coworkers , though- we’re actually friends. So I talk to them on the same basis that I would talk to my other friends. If a friend I didn’t work with called me when I was on vacation to get my thoughts about a situation she had at work , I’d talk if it was convenient to me and the same goes if it’s a friend I happen to work with.

      That’s why I’m a little puzzled by some of the comments about “work-life” balance . The letter writer doesn’t give any detail about the relationship between the husband and the coworker. Assuming the call is not from someone in a position of authority , it wouldn’t matter to me if my husband got a 1.5 hour phone call from a coworker about work related issues or a 1.5 hour call from a bowling buddy about bowling issues or from his cousin just to catch up. The call either has an impact on me or not (I’d be annoyed if he was on the phone in our hotel room when I was trying to sleep and I couldn’t care less if he was on the phone while I was down in the casino) regardless of who the call is from and what they’re talking about. Clearly the bowling buddy and the cousin aren’t about work-life balance at all – and neither is the first one really, unless there is someone who would be annoyed at the call from the coworker but not the buddy or the cousin.

  16. mskyle

    I get what Alison’s saying when she says “people in positions of authority should bend over backwards to be respectful of people’s off time, to encourage people to take “real” vacations, and to make it clear that working odd hours is truly 100 percent optional,” but I don’t think it just stops with people in positions of authority… I think it’s kind of *everyone’s* responsibility to create a good workplace environment.

    At a minimum, I think the OP would be completely justified in having a talk with the husband about work-life balance and their relationship: would husband expect to be contacted by a coworker while on vacation? Would the OP be upset about that? Is husband’s job right for their family?

    1. Jamie

      Sure – everyone should be respectful of other people’s time but Alison’s point is absolutely valid because of the power dynamic.

      If a co-worker calls with a non-emergency it’s a lot easier for most people* to tell them you should only be called in an emergency and you’ll deal with whatever they need when you’re back to work. If people with authority, including your boss, are bending over backwards in respecting your time off you know they have your back if the co-worker continues. They not only aren’t bothering you themselves, but they are an ally in keeping others from bothering you.

      If your boss (or anyone with authority over you) calls with a non-emergency it’s a LOT harder to shut that down immediately. Because going through your head are thoughts wondering if it will be held against you if you tell them you aren’t available and all kinds of possible repercussions. By the time you vet out whether it’s safe to decline they’ve already been talking so it’s easier to just help them out. And bosses that have no respect for your time may well get irritated if you do push back against a peer or report for “not being a team player” so they open the door to everyone who wants to annoy you in your off hours.

      It’s nice if everyone is respectful of time, it’s crucial that those in authority are.

      1. Jamie

        *I qualified most people because inexplicably a lot of people I know still feel some kind of unease setting boundaries even to a peer or report. Others, like me, feel nothing. Maybe I’m jaded from several thousand years in IT, but I left the guilt of not being able to be all things to all people all of the time at the door a long time ago.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot

          I’ve been in jobs where I was the admin whose job it was to assist everyone, and I was clearly the lowest-ranking employee; someone in that position is likely not to be in a position to say no to a coworker no matter who it is.

          1. Jamie

            Which is why people in authority must be the ones to protect personal time from unnecessary intrusions. No one would call you at home frivolously knowing you can’t say no if they knew they were going to catch hell from their boss for bothering you.

      2. mskyle

        Oh yeah, but I’m mainly saying even if this is a peer, the OP’s husband is helping to create or prop up a work environment that the OP finds unacceptable, and that’s something they should talk about.

  17. The Other Dawn

    If I got a call from my manager that late at night and it was a non-emergency, plus I was on VACATION, AND he kept me on the phone for over an hour, I’d be pretty damn pissed. But being that he’s the manager, I wouldn’t be comfortable saying, “Hey, I’m on vacation. Can we talk when I get back?” I would likely lose a lot of respect for my manager, though, and think he has poor judgment. I could see if it was an emergency and I was the ONLY person that could take care of it, then I’d be OK with it. But that really shouldn’t happen too often except in start-ups, very specialized occupations, or some freak coincidence where it happens that both I and my backup (cross training!) are out for some reason.

    But, of course, there are some companies where this is the norm and people are OK with it.

  18. Retail Lifer

    If we’re short-handed due to a call 0ff or there’s a question about paperwork that I need an answer to before someone’s next shift, I’ll text or email my employees. I really, REALLY try not to call and intrude on employees’ time off unless it’s an emergency. I’ll always stop and ask myself if I truly need the answer NOW, and the answer is usually no. As a manager, I’m expected to answer phone calls from my employees during all open mall hours, even if I’m done for the day, and it’s a PITA. I’m not going to do that to someone else.

  19. Kelly O

    What I’m not seeing here is what the LW’s husband thought of the situation.

    Did it bother him? Is the LW the only one upset by the call?

    I know how I personally would feel, and I know what it’s like to have a spouse on call pretty much 24/7 with calls coming in any time, but how I feel about that does not dictate my husband’s work environment.

    Vacation or not, if the LW’s husband was okay with the call, and the caller was okay with the call, I don’t see a problem, outside of the LW. Yes, they were on vacation, but that might have been the only time the “callee” had available to chat uninterrupted. They could have been in a different time zone, or making a needed call at the most convenient time for that person.

    I guess I just see this as something that in no way involved the LW, but in which she has placed herself, and I wonder what we would say if this was a female calling a coworker late in the evening, with a disapproving husband.

    1. LD

      If I were the spouse in this situation, I’d be angry at the “husband” even if it is the nature of his business to have calls at all hours. I agree with the commenters who suggest that the family of the coworker will be annoyed (that’s putting it mildly in my case!). Vacation! NON-emergency! If my spouse thinks it’s okay to place a call at 10:30 at night to talk about a non-emergency issue with someone who is on vacation, it won’t be a “workplace” question, it will be a “are you really the kind of person I want to stay married to” question. And I wouldn’t be writing to AAM about it. From a personal perspective, I want to sleep and I don’t want my spouse up on the phone while I’m trying to sleep. And, I don’t want to set a precedent for the spouse to have our vacation interrupted for late night, non-emergency calls, another potential situation for some discussion about workplace and personal boundaries. It’s a pet-peeve that my spouse is occasionally on the phone conducting business when I think we should be gazing soulfully into one another’s eyes. So there. (And that’s for another discussion on a different board!)

  20. Sophia in the DMV

    So I had a different take. Is the husband friends with the person he was talking with? My husband has a co-worker (well, my husband is a supervisor, but not of co-worker’s team, but has mentored co-worker) and they talk on the phone all the time. They will be talking in the garage and lose track of time, so he gets home late. They will also talk late at night. It often is about work stuff. But it’s also because they are friends. I wonder if something similar is going on here (and yes, I know this male co-worker and am sure that it’s him on the phone).

  21. Dan


    My line of work truly has flexible hours, even though I work in a standard office environment. Plenty of times I would be doing software bug reports at 2am, and at 230, I’d be getting emails from my boss asking me to test the bug fixes he just implemented.

  22. Michele

    I frequently take vacations where there is no cell service, and even when I don’t, I turn my phone off for long stretches of time. This sort of thing is one of the reasons for that. If I get a call from anyone at 10:30 PM, it better be an emergency.

  23. pinky

    Just sayin’ – I would read this post, but I don’t want to wait 20 seconds while an ad runs. I hit the back button right away!

    1. Sorcha

      For future reference, there is a Skip This Ad link in blue text at the top right of the screen (next to the countdown) which you can click to bypass it. I was very confused the first time I followed a link from here to there, since I use AdBlock and so didn’t get an ad, just a blank page. That Skip link was what tipped me off to what had happened.

  24. Cheddar2.0

    I agree that in the vast majority of workplaces, this would not be okay. But my husband would do this. He only has 2 coworkers at his site and they all work rotating shifts so sometimes you just gotta call someone at an awkward hour, especially if you are trying to cover for them while they are on vacation. His parent company is in Europe so I’m pretty used to 4 am phone calls about work. 10:30 wouldn’t surprise me at all.

  25. Kiwi

    It depends on seniority, preplanning and scheduling of key project milestones.
    It’s entirely possible that the person being called expected the call as they had willingly scheduled a holiday across key project milestones, including preplanned conference calling. Depending on timezones (especially if a project spans international borders), 10.30pm (LW’s husband’s time) may have been the only feasible time for the call).

  26. Ruthlessride

    My husband received a call from his co worker at 10:00 p.m. Asking him if he had any where abouts of the drama that was held st the office.
    I mean, it couldn’t wait until normal business hours? I just got a funny feeling

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