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My company does not provides phones or phone numbers as most of our meetings are held over teleconferencing tools (e.g. google hangout, zoom, etc.) but they do require us to list a phone number as part of our email signature on emails to external clients, so I've listed my cell phone number which I've had for 10+ years prior to joining this company.

After almost 5 years at the company, I gave my notice and am leaving on good terms for a better opportunity however my company has now advised me that I need to port my phone number over to the company before I leave as it is their "property". They claim that clients will be expecting service from their company when reaching out to me since that is how they are accustomed to getting in touch.

I don't feel this is reasonable as I had this number and phone for nearly a decade before joining and only used the number because they don't provide other means for client contact. I did not sign anything saying I would relinquish my phone number so, I'd like to know...

Are personal phone numbers used for company business property of the company upon quitting/leaving? Do they have any ground to make me port this number over? They have advised that they will contact our legal department and possibly withhold my final pay until I have met this request.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jun 25 at 12:00
  • Call your cell provider and set a SIM porting pin. Also instruct them that you don't wish to port out your phone number, in case your company calls trying to go behind your back. – user118655 Jun 25 at 21:52
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    Is it even legal to require employees list a phone number in their signature without providing them with one? – Colin 't Hart Jul 9 at 10:59
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Does my company own my phone number?

No, they don't.

Nor do you need a lawyer and nor should this cost you a penny (assuming that you were a W2 employee).

If they withhold your final pay, you just need to contact the Labor Department or the Labor Commissioner for your state and complain of wage theft. I would provide a link, but I don't know which state you're in.

If they choose to go that route, it will cost them your wage + a hefty fine.

If you can get them to issue that threat in writing, it's even better. You could even file your complaint with the Labor Department right now. The Labor Department in my state even cites the example of a restaurant deducting the cost of a name tag from the waiter's pay. So if they're willing to take on such a minor bogus charge, I'm quite sure that they'd be willing to take on a cell phone number issue as well.

And I'm sorry, but a blanket $20 a month for cell phone and internet pays for very little in the United States (especially if you include home broadband in addition to cell phone coverage). And even if they did pay your entire bill, they should have gotten the bill under their name, not yours. The fact that they didn't is their problem, not yours.

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    From the seriousness of this, I suspect whoever threatened you never talked to legal about it... otherwise they have a frighteningly incompetent legal team... – Nelson Jun 25 at 5:34
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    @StephanBranczyk Getting someone to threaten in writing is hard. The cheeky way to go is naming your price in an email ("Dear Bossman, I heard you were interested in buying my cell phone. My offer is USD 10,000, take it or leave it"). They will answer your written inquiry with a written pontification that they did not in fact intend to pay for your property and may even give you the actual "offer" in writing. Disclaimers: this is definitely burning bridges, IANAL, ask an actual legal counsel. – user3819867 Jun 25 at 7:19
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    To avoid any bridge burning, the OP should make their company understand that they know their rights, rather than going directly to the authorities. Something like: "I hear that you are planning to withhold my last pay check. That would be Wage Theft. Could I please get that in writing in a format suitable for submission to the Labor Department/Commissioner?" Then they will say "Oh you must have misunderstood us!" Then you can say "Clearly". No bridges burned, only slightly singed. – Stig Hemmer Jun 25 at 9:02
  • The best thing to do is get them to talk to their legal team, and get straightened out by them (with less effort from OP). Getting them to threaten in writing is only the second-best option. – employee-X Jun 25 at 18:51
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    @stig, Some bridges are better off burned. – Quantum Mechanic Jun 28 at 7:39
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Technically speaking, phone numbers belong to the phone company. Your service contract with the telephone company gives you limited rights to use the number, but you do not own it (the phone company can reassign that number whenever they want). You signed the contract with the phone company, so the rights to use the number are yours alone. Your company was not a party to that contract, thus it gives them zero legal rights to the number.

Even if your employer made you sign something saying you'd give them the number, it would likely be unenforceable. The service contract that allows you to use that number typically contains language that says you cannot "assign or transfer the Agreement or any of your rights or duties under it" (at least mine does, double-check yours to be sure). You don't have the power to transfer your rights to the owner, and a contract can't require you to do something that's impossible. The phone company could do it since they own the number, but they don't have to. Whether they will or won't is their decision and out of your control, so a contract between you and your employer can't require that.

There are laws/regulations that provide certain rights regarding number portability. These generally ensure that a phone number can remain with a subscriber when they move to a new carrier. Using (abusing?) the number porting process to transfer a phone number to an unrelated third party is an entirely different thing and is much more at the discretion/whim of the service provider. Actually, transferring control of a phone number to a third party is actually the hallmark of a number porting scam, so I wouldn't be surprised if a provider's internal systems automatically rejected that type of porting request.

Regarding the threat of withholding your paycheck, federal law says that you can't withhold a paycheck as punishment. How soon they have to pay you can vary, but at a minimum they must give you all owed wages at the next regularly-scheduled payday (some states require payment even sooner). Any half-decent HR rep will know this, so to me this sounds less like a request based on official company policy and more like someone scrambling to find a quick fix for a problem they caused (by not providing a phone) before anybody notices.

Side note: Voluntarily transferring your number to your employer is practically just as much of a security risk for you as a hacker stealing it. In both cases, someone else has the ability to impersonate you and intercept security credentials without your knowledge or control. IMHO, that alone is enough of a reason to refuse this request.

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    Technically speaking, phone numbers belong to the phone company As a side note, this depends on the country. I know that the question had a united-states tag but in some countries, the number belongs to you and you are entitled to keep it across the providers. This is the case in France (service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/…. - official information in French) – WoJ Jun 25 at 11:52
  • @WoJ I believe that U.S. law also stipulates that you can keep your number across providers, but I don't know the exact law details. – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Jun 25 at 13:01
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    @WoJ - Note that having the legal right to continue to use a phone number is not at all the same as owning/controlling it. You can't cancel your service and sell the rights to your number to a third party, for instance (at least not in any phone system I've heard of). The number will just get assigned to someone else, which couldn't happen if you actually owned it. – bta Jun 25 at 19:11
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    @bta: this is correct - I own the number in the sense that I can transfer it and keep it for myself no matter the carrier. – WoJ Jun 25 at 19:38
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Your company does not own your phone number. If you used your personal phone number for business reasons, then your company does not have a right to take that number away from you.

However, while I very much sympathize with you wanting to keep your phone number, please keep in mind that this phone number is somewhat tainted now. You've been using it in email signatures for the past 5 years for your employer, so everyone who you sent an email to from your company email address will see it as an official way to contact your company. That's what your boss alluded to. For them, your phone number is now an official way for any customer you've been in contact with to contact them.

Let me ask you something: are you willing to get monthly, or maybe even weekly phone calls from customers of your former employer on your private number for the next couple of years? Are you willing to patiently explain every time that you've left your company and that they'll have to call a different number? Even when you're on vacation, at your child's birthday party or while celebrating your anniversary with your partner? And don't even consider exploiting this for your own gain by trying to poach customers from your previous employer. This is unethical and might be banned by your contract or even by state law. 42 states have a law that bans stealing trade secrets from your employer, and that usually includes customer lists.

These phone calls will come in frequently, during any moment of your work day (and possibly even outside of that), and I assume that you can find new employment quickly. Is your new employer willing to accept that customers from your previous employer will call you on your own phone number on a regular basis, potentially disrupting your coworkers, just so you can tell them to call a different company? Your new employer might even want you to try and convince these clients to check them out, which again might land you in a legal minefield.

Note: this is something that shouldn't have happened. The only reason this is happening is because your ex-employer tried to cheap out by forcing you to pretty much relinquish your phone number, without actually taking control over it. What your boss should have done 5 years ago is get you a separate work phone so that you can keep these separate. If your boss had done that, you wouldn't have this problem right now.

This is a mess right now. The apparently simple answer would be to refuse the request, but then you will likely end up being an unpaid receptionist for your previous employer for years to come. However, accepting the request would mean you need to tell all your friends from the past 15 years that you have a new number. Depending on how many of them you know through social media, that may be as simple as just making a Facebook post. In the long term, this might provide you with fewer problems. I won't recommend you a specific option, but I do want to provide you with a warning for a potential outcome of one of the options.

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    While I agree in principle, these days on a cell phone OP has plenty of options to avoid having to answer calls from previous customers. At the lowest level, they just glance at the ID and decide not to answer. With a little setup they can either assign all of those customers to a given ring-tone so they know without looking, or even block all of those numbers. – Dragonel Jun 24 at 14:58
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    This is a good point. The original mistake was using your personal number. Go back in time and get a burner... – Oscar Bravo Jun 24 at 15:10
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    I feel that this answer is based on a lot of assumptions. Really depends on what role the OP has at their company. I was in a client-facing role previously and many clients had my personal phone number — didn't receive a single call after leaving as they were properly informed of my handover to a colleague. Really depends on the situation. – anotherdave Jun 24 at 15:24
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    I'm not sure why the new employer even needs to know about this, if you live in America you probably get 2 spam calls per day anyway. – IllusiveBrian Jun 24 at 15:35
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    This seems to assume you need to be overly polite to the people using the number. A "this number does not belong to that company anymore, sorry, bye" would be completely sufficient. If they don't accept the "bye" and say something else, you say something like "I'm busy, sorry, bye", hang up regardless and block the number. If the old company wanted a receptionist they could pay op for it... – Nobody Jun 24 at 18:03
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No. By that logic, any personal property that you used for work purposes would become their property. If you regularly wore a particular shirt to client meetings, would they claim that the shirt was theirs because clients were expecting to see their employees wearing it? What about the car you drove to work every day? I've occasionally sent work-related emails from my personal phone, even after I got a company phone; does that mean that my employer now owns my personal email address and phone?

In the U.S., the states' labor laws will often dictate the terms for final paychecks. In Illinois, for example, this is specifically dictated by the Wage Payment and Collection Act. The act requires (among other things) that "All final compensation, including bonus payments, vacation pay, wages and commissions must be paid on your next regularly scheduled payday." There is not any clause, as far as I know, that specifies that they may violate this if they feel you haven't performed all of your contractual obligations - if they think that, they're perfectly free to take you to court over the unfulfilled contractual obligation, but they're not free to withhold wages. If you worked during a particular period in good faith, they must pay you for it on time - it's that simple. (Obviously, I'm not a lawyer though).

In fact, depending on how long it's been since you left, you may already have a basis for a claim. If it's been more than one pay period since you left and they haven't paid you yet, they violated the law (in Illinois at least).

You can search for "[your state] wage claim" on your favorite search engine to find out details.

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Obviously, your company should have provided you with – and, paid for – a separate phone.

And today, "believe it or not," they actually can "manage to exclude you." Don't let any remaining minion within the organization tell you otherwise. "This is their headache, not yours."

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No way does your company have any right to your phone number.

Let's say you'd been giving your colleague a ride to work every day for the past 2 years, and when you told that colleague you were quitting they insisted that you give them your car. "Because it's how I get to work, and everyone will expect me to show up to work everyday in this car."

Just nope.

And others have hit the nail on the head about withholding pay - it's just illegal.

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Your number is now your asset. Auction it for a reserve price more than the hassle of keeping it. That's business.

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    Don't you mean, a reserve price higher than the hassle of letting it go? Keeping it would require no effort on the OP's part. – employee-X Jun 25 at 18:55
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I suggest offering a compromise. Let them give you one phone number, and this time it should be one of their own numbers. Include in your voicemail greeting "If this call is for my former employer [COMPANY] please call [NUMBER]." Use ringtone and similar features to make calls from your former clients silently go to voicemail, and have your phone only ring or vibrate for calls from your personal contacts.

This way you keep your phone number but your former employer gets the customer calls they need.

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I can't believe that anyone would agree to this. "We want you to make public your private phone number, so people can potentially call you 24/7."

I believe the second word I said would've been "you" or "off".

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