Another Inside Look at Phone to Phone Inc., With Some Troubling Allegations

I got the following email from an ex-employee of Phone to Phone Inc. (as usual, republished with permission):

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I came across your website detailing your frustrations with phonetophone while checking around wondering how my old employer was doing. I saw you had an e-mail from one of the callers (i.e. telemarketers) and saw your speculations on how they make their money. Well, I wanted to let you know that you’re dead on. I was hired as a writer for them and was generally expected to produce 13-15 articles per day. I did get to choose some of the content I produced, but mostly we were just coming up with articles for their medical and law related sites. My most uncomfortable moment came when Boris (the CEO) told me I needed to be writing content that doctors and lawyers would turn to for information. At the time I’d been out of college for approximately four months and had absolutely no experience in either field; therefore, I felt that it was not only an impossible task, but a dangerous one. If a doctor seriously looked to one of my articles for information, I would be extremely mistrusting of his or her knowledge. Anyway, the point was to build up content and eventually sell the websites to legitimate companies once they garnered significant hits.

I ended up quitting about a week after Boris decided to do a major overhaul to “weed out” the least productive members of his office. His first idea was to forbid us from leaving our seats except to use the bathroom. I was no longer allowed to walk over to other employees (including my direct boss) to ask questions, give them papers, etc. Instead, all questions were to be asked via e-mail. That led to the next rule where we were no longer allowed to speak to other employees unless it was absolutely necessary. Certainly I can see the value in using work time for, well, work, but outright forbidding human interaction seemed a little extreme. The final straw came when, arriving seven minutes late one day (because of an accident on the highway), I was sent home and told to come on time the next day. Suffice to say, I did not come back; the complete lack of respect seemed appalling.

In terms of other general marks against the company, I had a few complaints (of course). For one, lunch breaks were pretty much forbidden; I never saw anyone get in trouble for taking one, but neither did I ever see anyone actually leave their desk for an hour or stop working while they ate. In addition, we were expected to work weekend and late night hours as the only real way to impress Boris (weekends were unpaid) and move up the ranks. Everyone who was higher up than me worked, I would estimate, a minimum of 60 hours a week. In addition, all of the employees were required to make a gmail account to conduct work from – something which, for an internet company, seemed a little shady. I would have expected them to host a server instead.

Also, in response to your previous tipster’s communications, I thought I’d give him some happy news: while I worked for them, Dominic did indeed get fired, with no fanfare, notice, or reason. Supposedly, he was “too intense” with his efforts to make his writers and callers produce. At that point he was working probably 80 hours a week, easy, rarely sleeping, and spending no time with his family, all of which contributed to him seeming to be at the end of his rope. I only had one complaint with him myself, which was that my interview for the job consisted of me showing up and being put in a cubicle to wait for a good half an hour (until the end of the day). When he finally came over, on his way out the door, he clearly had no idea who I was or who’d scheduled me, but he did ask me two questions: “can you write?” and “how well?” When I said yes, very well, he told me to show up the next day in time for work. That was, however, more interview than most of the writers got. Most of them simply showed up and were given article assignments. If they met their article counts, they were allowed to come back; if not, they were told to finish at home if they wanted to come back for day two of their three day unpaid trial period.

I know this much because, after two weeks, I was expected to both recruit and train new writers, in addition to my contributed article count. Even more disturbing, while doing so, I was told explicitly not to schedule interviews with any “old people” (most likely because they would see through the scheme) or anyone who asked too many questions. When I did schedule an interview with an older, more experienced man (40s-50s, I believe), I was told to tell him the position was filled (in fact, we hired constantly, even when there were no physical places to put people; turnover was so high, that we could not get enough people). This made me extremely uncomfortable as I’m fairly sure that’s blatant age discrimination, and is quite illegal.

All in all, I can only say that I wish more people knew to avoid this company. They treat their employees terribly, keeping them motivated only with typical scam promises, and the work is not only meaningless, but potentially dangerous in its repercussions. In terms of all business dealings, I can say only this: stay away! Thank you for hosting this information; hopefully other people will avoid them, though they do abstain from giving out the name of the company in job postings or while scheduling interviews (sketchy much?).

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A few things from this report stand out. First, the office environment does not sound like the kind I would enjoy. I tend to work pretty hard at the office, but it’s also important to me to like and respect my co-workers and engage with them socially both at work and elsewhere. I can’t really imagine being in an office where I didn’t have casual spontaneous social interactions with my co-workers. That just doesn’t sound fun to me.

Second, a company could maintain such an unappealing office environment only when so many smart people are anxious for *any* paying job.

Third, as with the prior email I posted, this email raises questions about some HR practices that may be interesting to employment lawyers.

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My previous coverage of Phone to Phone Inc. and related entities:

* Another Unhappy Phone to Phone Inc. Ex-Employee Speaks Out (Sept. 7, 2010)

* A Report About a “Sketchy” Interview With Phone to Phone Inc. (May 19, 2010)

* Public Librarian Complains About Phone to Phone Inc. (Jan. 17, 2010)

* Phone to Phone Inc. is Spamming Again–This Time for Lawschool.org (Jan. 14, 2010)

* Another Phone to Phone Inc. Employee Speaks Out (Dec. 15, 2009)

* Questionable Employment and SEO Practices at Phone to Phone Inc.? (Dec. 10, 2009)

* Attorney.org is Latest Phone to Phone Inc. Website to Spam Me (Oct. 28, 2009)

* More Spam from Phone to Phone Inc.–This Time on Behalf of Laws.com (Oct. 23, 2009)

* Newlawyer.com Spams Me Again (Twice in One Day!) (Oct. 19, 2009)

* Newlawyer.com: Persistent Telemarketer, and Now a Spammer (Oct. 2, 2009)

I also wrote a review of Newlawyer.com at SiteJabber.

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