Dealing with debt collectors can be an unpleasant experience. If you owe money and have not repaid it, you may be contacted by a third-party collection agency that has bought the debt or is being paid a portion of it. Debt collectors may engage in a number of different methods to find out more about you. Your employer may even be contacted in an effort to retrieve information about you. While your employer may be required to verify your employment, there are certain details about you that they can refuse to provide, and they can only talk to a debt collector about your employment status and not your debt.
Your employer cannot legally refuse verification of employment status to a creditor. However, they are not required to include any additional information beyond your job status, location of employment, and current insurance benefits (if your debt is medical in nature).
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act regulates companies that are in the business of collecting debt. Certain rules are established about when and who collection agencies may contact. For example, unless you allow otherwise, a debt collector may call you only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Also, other people may be contacted only to ask for your phone number, address and place of employment. No personal information about your debt may be divulged to another person.
Employer Contact by Collectors
The FDCPA allows you to be contacted at work, unless you have informed the agency that your employer does not allow personal calls. Also, your employer may be contacted directly to inquire about your job status, location of work and health insurance benefits (if the debt is medically related and your insurance covers the bill). However, your employer cannot be given any details about the debt. If a request is made about your salary or other personal information, your employer can refuse to verify those types of inquiries. Also, if the collection agent asks for the same information more than once, your employer can refuse the request, and the contact may be interpreted as a violation of federal law.
Understanding Wage Garnishments
Your wages cannot be garnished by your employer without a court order. To receive one, your creditor must sue you and a win a judgment against you. When your employer is requested to garnish your wages, the court order must be presented prior to attaching the garnishment amount to your salary. In this case, your employer must verify your employment to the debt collector and follow the requirements of the judgment.
Complaint for FDCPA Violations
If a debt collector violates any provision of the FDCPA, some remedies are available to you. You may file a complaint, including details of the violation, with the state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Also, you may sue the collection agency. However, there is a one-year statue of limitations from the date that the violation took place. If you are the prevailing party in a lawsuit, you may be able to collect actual damages for money that you lost due to illegal practices (such as a job loss from excessive employer contact), attorney fees and court costs. Even if you can't prove any damages, you still may be awarded $1,000 under the provisions of the FDCPA.
- Federal Trade Commission: Debt Collection FAQs -- A Guide for Consumers
- Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: Debt Collection Practices -- When Hardball Tactics Go too Far
- FairDebtCollection.com: Answers to FAQs About the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
- Federal Trade Commission: Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Carol Deeb has been an editor and writer since 1988. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers and online publications, as well as a book on education. Deeb is a real-estate investor and business owner with professional experience in human resources. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from San Diego State University.