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Phone charges at work. Is this criminal?

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Junior Member
(This was originally posted to the Small Claims forum)

State of NJ

I will be cross-posting this to the "Other Crimes" forum in an attempt to determine whether or not the following situation could be considered criminal. And be warned, this is pretty long.

Until recently, I worked for a retail chain (Company A) that has mini-stores located in a chain of larger department stores (Company B). As such, I was employed solely by Company A. Company B had no dominion over my employment. I would regularly bring my laptop to work and use the phone line there to connect to the internet. The dial-up number I used was a toll call. In June, I was informed by my manager that the Company B was raising an issue with phone charges I had accumulated and that I had to pay said charges.

After 2-3 weeks of attempting to find out more, I was finally presented with a print-out detailing charges beginning in January and ending in May. The total was approximately $330. Being pressured by my manager, who told me that Company A refused to pay the phone charges and Company B "wants their money", I suggested paying $100/week. He agreed. He then told me to wait two weeks to make the first payment, as he would be on vacation and didn't want me to leave money/checks with anyone but him.

On July 19th, before any payments were made, I received the following e-mail (changes in bold are to protect anonymity):

KCPavon: You must call me in the morning. Company B has uncovered additional money used by you and your computer time to the tune of an additional 250$. That makes the total of over 500$.

It is urgent that you get me some amount of money asap, before Company B uses other avenues to recover the money owed.

I will be waiting for a check from you on no later than Friday pm.any amount will show in good faith your intentions to repay.
Will no longer be allowed to bring your laptop into the store. District Manager is aware of the unauthorized usage of you laptop and the money owed.

I responded that night with an e-mail of my own.


This is ridiculous, and I will tell you why:

-First of all, the numbers I was given go back to January. That is over seven months ago. That Company B and/or Company A waited over six months to bring this up is absurd. Three months I can understand, four is pushing it. But waiting six months, then saying, "Oh, wait, there's more," is absolutely unacceptable.

-Secondly, let's examine this whole concept of "unauthorized usage" that you mention. There WAS no unauthorized usage. Before I ever used my laptop to connect to the Internet at work, YOU gave me permission to do so. I know your memory leaves much to be desired, so I'll remind you:
You told me that you are given an Internet access number by the community college at which he teaches and that you would dial it from the store if you ever needed to get online. It was you who showed me the phone cord at the end of the counter and told me that if I ever wanted/needed to go online, I could use that phone line. I told you that my university gives me a free dial-up connection to use (which is when you revealed that the one you used was provided by community college) and that I was free to use it. That hardly seems like unauthorized access to me.
In a voice mail you left me when this issue came up, you claimed that you knew I was bringing my laptop to work, but you didn't know I used it to go online while I was there. Once again, let me remind you of a few instances in which you clearly knew I was using it. You asked me if I had my laptop with me and asked me to go online and download a manual for a item which we sell at the store. You watched on several occasions as I looked up various information for you and the store, such as rebate information. You were not only aware of the access, but you watched and asked me to use it on several occasions. This is CLEARLY not "unauthorized access" by any stretch of the definition.

Also, I would like to point out that since I was informed about the charges, I have only brought my laptop to work ONCE, where I went online using a local access number for the purpose of class registration. Aside from that single case, there has not been a single instance of "unauthorized access".

While these issues were always in my mind as you brought up the phone charges, I did not feel the amount was significant enough to contest the charges, especially since I felt doing so would risk my continued employment;employment which I, for the most part, sincerely enjoy. Now, however, you are telling me that the charges have nearly doubled. Not only that, but you are attempting to place all of the blame onto me even though I was not doing anything that I was not given either implied or expressed consent to do.

I will make myself clear on this point: I have absolutely no intention of paying all of these 'charges' as I do not feel it is my responsibility to do so. Not only was I granted permission to bring and use my laptop in the store, both offline and online, but I was asked to do so several times. There was never any indication from you, my manager, that there were any problems, and now I am to be held accountable for the past seven months? No.

I will acknowledge that the usage may have been excessive, and based on that I may be willing to pay for a portion of the charges. However, you are at least as liable as I and I refuse to be held solely accountable.

This message is being sent to District Manager as well. I get the distinct impression that he is not aware of your consent and role in this matter, so enlightening him seems the only proper thing to do. Also, I will not be calling you in the morning. Anything else can be said via e-mail. You mentioned Company B using "other avenues", so I would prefer any further communication to be via e-mail. This will provide a record of communications without a "he said, she said" scenario that is being filtered through different parties before getting to me.

Finally, I do not feel comfortable being in the store until this matter is resolved. As such, I will not be at work until some sort of agreement is reached. This is NOT me quitting, as I would like to return to work. Consider it calling out, taking a leave of absence, etc. Just know that unless something changes regarding this issue, I will not be in as scheduled Friday and Saturday, along with any days scheduled in the future.

A reminder: Any further discussion regarding this will be via e-mail.

Respectfully Yours,
The following day, I received a voicemail from 'Joe'. It essentially said that I could either come to work and pay the bill, or be 'officially terminated.' I responded with the following e-mail:


The voice message you left today did not address any of the issues I raised in my last e-mail. Instead, you simply said that I can pay the charges and come to work tomorrow, or I will be terminated. My previous statements have not changed: I do not believe I should be held solely responsible for the charges in question and will not be working unless an agreement can be reached. If you are unwilling to negotiate an arrangement, you can consider me terminated or resigned, whatever makes your life easier.

I did not go to work the next day, never received an e-mail with the following week's schedule (which is the only way I know I was terminated/removed from payroll), and have heard nothing else on the matter. I have direct deposit and received my final pay without any deductions. I have not heard anything else on this matter since.

Today, I received a phone call from a former co-worker who left Company A long before I did. She was in the store to make a purchase and 'Joe' asked if she had heard what had happened to me. She said no and 'Joe' told her that "...he was fired and now he owes (Company B) $600." He also told her that Company B is "pressing charges" against me.

Today I sent another e-mail to 'Joe', the District Manager, as well as the Manager of the department store, with whom I have had no prior contact. I won't put the text of that e-mail here, simply because it's long and only serves to get in touch with the department store manager, fill her in on what's been going on, and express my concern with hearing about "pressing charges" through a party that has nothing to do with anything.

For those of you who have made it this far, I applaud you. Also, two questions:

-What is my actual liability in this situation?

-Is there any legal basis to turn this into a criminal charge, such as theft? I ask because "pressing charges" doesn't strike me as a civil term, but 'Joe' isn't exactly known for his ability to communicate. If so, I imagine I should either suck it up and pay the charges, or get a lawyer.

Sorry for the length of this, but I want to get all the relevant information out. I greatly appreciate any help you can give.


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