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What’s My Number?

Q. I brought my mobile phone (and the number) with me to this company 4 years ago. I used the cell phone for work, and customers called me on this number. I just got laid off. The company did not allow me to port my original personal mobile number when I left, because they paid for the phone service. Is there a MA state or federal law which allows me to keep my original personal mobile number that I brought with me to the company? The company claim is that it was used as a business number and that people may continue to call me as a non-employee. Don’t I own this number?

A. The lines continue to blur between private and work life, and private and work property. Phone ownership has come full circle. People had two cell phones, so they didn’t confuse personal and work business — they then simplified and consolidated to one mobile phone for both. As people eliminated their land lines and lost their “home” or personal phone number, many people returned to a private and work mobile phone.

“It is not clear that you do own the number and depending on the circumstances the employer may be able to retain the number,” says Attorney Dave Wilson, an employment attorney at Hirsch Roberts Weinstein, LLP. In November 2003 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) instituted “wireless local number portability” (WLNP) rules. WLNP allows wireless subscribers to change wireless carriers within a given geographic area and keep the same phone number. If you move to another geographic area you may not be able to take your mobile number with you.

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Even though the employee brought her phone with her, the company has paid for the telephone service for the past 4 years. When she left, the cell phone would have been on a company service contract. Presumably the company could cancel the contract even if they could not get the cell phone back from the employee. If the bills went directly to the business, as opposed to them reimbursing the employee, then it would seem that the ownership of the number may have been transferred to them.”

Employers could have a legitimate business interest in keeping the number. If the employee is in sales and her current customers have her cell phone number, then it would be in the employer’s interest to have the cell phone number stay with the company so the company’s customers’ calls would not be intercepted by the former employee when those customers intended to call the company.

An employer could legitimately bring claims against an employee who tried to take the mobile number when the mobile service contract was paid for by the employer many things including the theft of the employer’s goodwill.

Documenting who owns what, and the expectations employees and employers have will help avoid issues which may become legal claims.

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