It has now become a staple of everyday life in America that many of the call center which we reach when we call large corporations are staffed by individuals abroad. What is the legal basis for having workers outside of the jurisdiction of the US working (effectively) on the US territory in this manner? These are people answering calls in a business setting. So there is no question of whether they are working or rather just talking. This is not a question of free speech. It's a question of work authorization.

Let me clarify why I think this is or isn't an issue. If I go to hear a paid performance by a folk singer in the US, but he is not authorized to work in the US, he can't accept a payment for singing. If I call him on the phone and ask him to sing, and he lives in the US, but he is not authorized to work in the US, he can't legally sing for money during that call. But somehow if he is in a different country, then I can call him and he may be legally allowed to sing to me for money without being afoul of the US labor law. This doesn't seem legal. And yet this is what the call centers are doing.

I am not asking for some reasons why this is happening. This is a question about the US law. What is the reason why providing services to the people situated in the US is not considered working in the US from the perspective of the US law?

EDIT: a number of answers seem to center around the idea that a person who is not present in the US cannot be considered to be working in the US, by law, simply because they are not physically present in the US.

It is simply not the case that the US law cannot make such a consideration.

There is a more general principle at play here. An action performed outside of the US does not automatically become a non-US action. For example, US citizens owe US Federal income taxes on all income earned abroad.

The confusion maybe caused by a slight semantic distinction. It is not automatically the case that work done outside of the US is not work in the US. The fact remains that by servicing calls from numbers in the US, some work within the US gets done.

Whether or not the US labor law considers this to be work in the US is a matter of law. It's not a matter of fact. If it were a matter of fact, then no law could change it. But it is certainly possible for a law to exist which would make such work to be considered work in the US. So a law could (at least hypothetically) change it.

Please, limit your answers to the law.

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    The call centre workers are not working in the USA, "effectively" or otherwise, so this entire question rests on a false premise. – Nij Aug 20 '19 at 19:49
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    @grovkin: no, that is a sale of goods. You dont pay for the sales pitch, you pay for the car. You seem to mix different areas of law. Oversight of accountants for instance is not labor law but financial services law. – MSalters Aug 20 '19 at 20:41
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    @grovkin: that is plain incorrect. There is no "regardless of service" here. Nor do they avoid local jurisdiction merely by not being physically present. The question might be valid on its ownm but the assumptions that led you to it are not. – MSalters Aug 20 '19 at 20:49
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    There is no need to justify a fact. The call centre workers are working in the country of their actual location, for a company regulated under that jurisdiction, almost certainly being paid in the local currency, living in the local area. They are not in the USA, they are not working in the USA, and your refusal to accept the fact (even after multiple answers explain it) makes this entire question pointless. – Nij Aug 21 '19 at 5:59
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    What "unit of work" occurs in the United States in the scenario? – user662852 Aug 21 '19 at 18:42

Everything is allowed unless the law says it isn’t

Common law systems like the USA are ‘exceptions based’ - the law permits everything except what it prohibits. So, your question is backwards - rather than looking for laws that allow it, you need to look for laws that prohibit, restrict or regulate it.

There are laws that regulate this but none that prohibit it.

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  • Is that the case though? Is it true that providing services, over the phone, to persons situated in the US is not considered working in the US from the perspective of the US labor law? I understand that it is happening. But is it happening because it's not forbidden or is there a law regulating it and the call centers are in compliance because they take steps to be in compliance? – grovkin Aug 20 '19 at 23:02
  • Is the person making your iPhone in China working in the US or China? Same difference. – Dale M Aug 20 '19 at 23:20
  • Not really. I never speak to that person. I only speak to a person in the US who sells me the phone. The person who speaks to me on the phone, while I am in the US, is effectively conducting operations on the US soil... what they do interacts with US persons directly (rather than through some chain of events in the future). – grovkin Aug 20 '19 at 23:34
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    And if you call them when you are in France on holiday? That person is now working in France? Why do you think it matters where you are? – Dale M Aug 20 '19 at 23:49
  • I don't know. But it is still a conversation within a framework of a service or a transaction which is explicitly agreed to be guided by the laws of some US locality. Of course, if you are using a French service, while in France, that's different. But if you are calling about something that is a result of you having signed an agreement which said that it will by subject to the laws of insert US locale here, then you are operating on the US soil. – grovkin Aug 21 '19 at 0:29

The legal basis is simple. What is not forbidden is allowed.

Companies may have employees abroad. Thise are subject to foreign labor law. When those employees produce goods tjat are imported, additional rules apply to the imported goods (varies per product). When the employees provide services, additional service-specific rules could apply. The keyword is could. In the absence of specific rules for product advice and guidance, outsourced helpdesks only fall under Indian labor law. US minimum wage for instancd is irrelevant.

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  • You are the 2nd person to mention India, but Ok. Personally, I don't remember the last time that someone on the other end of the line, who had an accent, had an Indian accent. It's usually South American countries. – grovkin Aug 20 '19 at 21:16

Offices of a Multi-national company are subject too the laws of the nation an office is currently branched in and are usually incorperated under the second nations' laws and not the first. For example, if I start the company Acme Co in the United States, but I put my product complaint hot line in India, I'd set up a company Acme India in India for the purpose of my Indian business ventures. Thus the company Acme India is an Indian company and subject to Indian but is owned by the same people who own Acme co, which is subject to U.S. Law and the India branch is not publicly available for stock options but the U.S. company is publicly traded and that income helps us expand. That means so long as I follow India's employment laws, I can hire Indian workers and not American workers.

There are reasons I would want to do this. In the case of call centers, it's a very low skill labor job that needs only a single (large) centralized location. India is a buyer's market for labor and thus I can get butts in the seats for cheap (I can't sell hunting gear to coyotes if I can't make some return on investment, and coyotes love to buy lots of items for cheap... I need to lower my overhead somehow). The other reason India is specifically chosen is not only is labor cheap, but it's also the largest English Speaking language in the world (over 1 billion served... It's one of two official languages of the nation).

So they aren't working in the U.S. territory at all... they are working in India Territory... the can take service calls from anywhere in the world. So what if the bulk of the calls are from overseas customers?

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  • You don't need to explain that it's cheaper. That goes without saying. But you can't buy car insurance in a state in which you don't live. At the same time, if you call a bank call number, the person answering your call may be in Peru. Clearly the company in Peru is allowed to hire him. My question is what the legal basis for having a person in Peru provide interact with a customer in the US (not from the perspective of Peru's law.. from the perspective of the US law)? – grovkin Aug 20 '19 at 19:40
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    Because car insurance is highly regulated by the states, tech support is not largely regulated. And my claims adjuster doesn't need to be state side, so long as he's giving me answers that are legal per my policy and state laws. – hszmv Aug 20 '19 at 19:47
  • Also, while my car has in state insurance, I do drive it in other states and don't lose coverage... so buying a product may be regulated by states, moving across the country doesn't mean product support is out if I'm not calling from the state of purchase. – hszmv Aug 20 '19 at 19:49
  • but he is outside of the jurisdiction. I can't take him to any state's court if he completely bullshits me. – grovkin Aug 20 '19 at 19:50
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    Who is he? If you're suing the individual call center employee specifically, no lawyer will take the case cause he has no real money. If you want to sue the legal entity of the call center, sue the company in jurisdiction as they directed you to the call center and are the responsible owners anyway... – hszmv Aug 20 '19 at 20:01

The person who speaks to me on the phone, while I am in the US, is effectively conducting operations on the US soil.

One could see where this reasoning might come from. When you call a business on a US phone number you may expect that the person answering your call is on the US soil. At least this expectation was very reasonable before the VoIP era.

But the existence of that expectation/anticipation does not make it ought to be met by the business. The contract/terms of service do not provide that calls will be answered by persons with nice American pronunciation sitting at the offices on Wall Street. The business is free to contract whatever people around the world can answer the call and address the customers' queries.

The fact that you expect that the person answering your call would/should be on the US soil does not make them so. They are factually not, and neither they are directly employed by the US business. Therefore there is no need for them to be allowed to work in the US.

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  • What about the fact that the contract which I signed says that it will be subject to the laws of California (for example)? I am not expecting any sort of accent. I am Ok with accents. I asked about the legal standard for what constitutes work in the US. This question, just as this site, is about the law -- not opinions. – grovkin Aug 21 '19 at 0:30
  • @grovkin The contract that you signed is between you and the business. It has nothing to do with the contract between the business and those who provide call center services. As long as the business fulfills its obligations to you (e.g. answer your support queries) they can do it whatever way they choose. – Greendrake Aug 21 '19 at 2:25
  • I don't think OLMS would agree that how a business fulfills its services is up to the business. Remember the gist of the question is whether or not there is any labor law which needs to be heeded. BTW, I never heard of a call center situated on Wall Street. Is that something you made up? Or do you have a specific example in mind? – grovkin Sep 9 '19 at 19:41

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