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Can Your Boss Legally Open Your Mail?

Can Your Boss Legally Open Your Mail?

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

My own postman is unreliable, so I often have book orders from amazon, half.com and ebay sent to me at work. The other day, my boss opened a package addressed to me and was offended. He wasn’t offended that I had something mailed to me at work, he was offended by the subject matter that the book dealt with (sex). I asked him why he opened a package addressed to me and he replied that he is the boss and can open my mail if it is coming to a business he manages.

It is indeed legal. Postal regulations say that mail delivered to an organization, even if addressed to a specific person, is delivered to the organization itself, and the organization can decide how to distribute it from there.

But as is so often the case, the question of what’s legal is different from the question of what’s polite.

I don’t know if your boss opened your package on purpose or by mistake. It’s certainly not that hard to accidentally open someone else’s mail without meaning to; I’ll often just open anything left in my in-box without thinking to look at the address, and I’ve sometimes opened something meant for someone else by mistake. But if it was a mistake, the correct response is “I’m sorry, this was inadvertent,” not “too bad, I’m entitled to do it if I want.” And if it was intentional, your boss is an ass. So really, either way, he’s kind of an ass.

Now, that said, there’s also the question of what’s smart. Having books on sex sent to your work address, when it is sooooo easy for a package sent to a work address to be accidentally opened by someone else? Not necessarily the smartest thing to do. I don’t know if this was some academic treatise on sexual issues, which really shouldn’t offend someone, or something a bit more, uh, lowbrow, but if it was the latter, you were kind of asking for trouble.

I completely understand the desire to have your packages sent to your work address. I used to do it all the time when I had a UPS man who refused to leave packages without a signature. But (a) not every business welcomes or even permits it, and (b) it’s not a good idea for things you wouldn’t want someone else to see.