Can I keep my work phone number if I leave my job?

Switching jobs can be hectic when it comes time to decide what to take and leave behind. You’ll likely grab your personal knickknacks, the Bluetooth keyboard your mom bought you for Christmas and the ergonomic cushion you ordered online for your chair.

You’ll leave your company-owned laptop, the snazzy monitor that sits on your office desk and the new iPhone the company issued you upon your arrival. But what about your mobile phone number, which over the course of your tenure has become more integrated into your life than you expected?

A reader from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., who asked to remain anonymous since he hasn’t yet submitted his two-week’s notice, is facing this exact scenario. And given the amount of job-hopping that is still happening as people look for better opportunities, higher wages and remote or hybrid options, it’s a consideration many workers are likely dealing with.

But don’t fret, we talked to several corporate technology executives to find an answer. Before we dive in, I’d like to remind you that the Help Desk is here for you. Do you have questions or concerns about the technology you use in the workplace? Fill out our online form, and let us know what’s going on. We’ll do our best to find you some answers.

What questions do you have about your workplace tech?

With that, let’s explore the complicated matter of work-issued mobile phone numbers.

Q: I received a corporate phone about six years ago and since then it’s been the only phone I use. I’m planning to leave the company at the end of the year. It would make my life much easier if I could continue using that number. Do companies allow employees to do that?

A: After speaking to several corporate tech executives, simply put, the answer is: It depends. From a technological standpoint, porting a phone number from one plan or service to another is usually pretty easy. But there are a lot of other reasons a company ultimately does not allow employees to take their corporate-issued mobile number with them.

Your best bet is to review your company policies, which may include details on whether employees can keep their phone numbers and touch base with your manager and possibly human resources, IT, and legal departments — though your manager may help with all the red tape. Also make sure, if you do get approval, that you get documented proof from the company.

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For many employers, giving up a corporate mobile phone number may not be a big deal. It can be as simple as pushing some papers around and requesting the change with the carrier, several experts said.

But Caroline Wong, chief strategy officer at San Francisco-based cybersecurity firm Cobalt, says companies may also have bundled agreements or contracts with their carriers, so separating one number may be a little more complicated and potentially not worth the trouble. And the company may weigh how much the number is associated with the company or whether the employee is leaving to work for a competitor.

A company may not want to let go of a number that was regularly used to receive new client calls, for example, especially if the person on the other end works for a direct competitor, Wong said. And the change also has the potential to affect a brand’s reputation, Wong said.

“The person trying to reach a McDonald’s employee and instead reaches a Burger King employee will have a poor customer experience,” she said. “Maybe I [the client] never want to call again.”

Some companies — especially those that are highly regulated like banking and health care companies — may keep the number for liability purposes, said Chris Wooten, executive vice president of vertical markets at enterprise software firm NICE Systems. In those cases, regulatory bodies may request certain phone logs, texts or other data records related to their corporate phone numbers. If the company has given away the phone number, it no longer will have access to those details and the whole situation becomes a liability for which the company can get fined.

“In those cases, the company has a real responsibility,” Wooten said. “If they’re not able to produce … it could be a significant penalty.”

If your company ultimately chooses not to give you the phone number, make sure you separate all your personal accounts, said Sushila Nair, vice president of security services at IT consulting firm NTT Data. That means making sure none of your photos, documents or other items are saved on the company cloud. Even better, don’t save any personal items on your company device to begin with, and if you do, make sure they’re not backed up on the company’s cloud. You should also make sure the phone number is no longer the number you use for two- or multi-factor authentication for any services like banking. Downloading an authentication app or using a hardware security key (a dongle that can serve as an authenticator) are better solutions than using a phone number for authentication.

“If you have a company phone, think very carefully about using that phone number,” Nair said. “That phone number could be taken away at any moment in time.”

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But if your company does allow you to take the number, which several experts suggested is a high probability, you should be aware of a few security risks, said Darren Shou, chief technology officer at Norton LifeLock.

Cybercriminals are constantly targeting the masses, hoping to catch someone at the right moment. In this case, that might mean sending you a phishing email asking you to click a link or confirm your details to finalize the switch. It may look like a small disruption in service that a user may assume is normal with the transfer, but actually transfers should be pretty automatic, Shou said. The idea is, hackers may try to get ahold of your account so that they can get access to other valuable data like banking information.

“It’s not a time to let your guard down,” he said. “It’s a time to raise the shields.”

As you transition to your new job, you may also want to carefully consider how you will handle your company phone in the future.

Wong of Cobalt says oftentimes it might be easier to have the company subsidize your personal phone, then use an additional service like WhatsApp or Google Voice to separate your work calls and set boundaries between your work and home life. The downside is the company may ask you to download security or device management software, which may give them access to your phone. They also may be able to confiscate the phone if data or communications on it become part of a legal investigation.

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For workers who want to ensure they can move their number around with them, keep their work and personal lives separate, protect their work and personal data, the best option might be using two different phones.

“It’ll be interesting one day to see if either the phone manufactures or carriers allow you to have a single device with two lines [by default],” Wong said. “That’s really where this needs to go.”

Until then, experts say, weigh your trade-offs and pick the best option. You may not always be able to keep your number or device.