Q. Several employees have complained that they received personal letters via our company’s regular mail system (not e-mail) that had been opened by someone else in our company. Can other employees or supervisors open and read personal mail sent to employees?
A. It is somewhat unusual for employers to allow employees to have personal mail delivered to them at work. It’s also unusual to read personal mail at work. This would encourage employees to read personal mail on company time. Why encourage wasting company time?
If the employer allows personal mail to be delivered at work, is there a legitimate business reason to open personal mail? The possible exception may be where there are security issues or where there is some evidence that the mail is being used for inappropriate or unlawful purposes.
That said, the issue involves an expectation of privacy. Thus, we suggest adopting a specific policy that notifies employees that the company has the right to monitor and open all mail sent to it, that all mail delivered to the company is subject to such inspection and that employees have no right to privacy for any mail delivered to the company. These policies are particularly important with respect to electronic communications such as e-mail, although we understand that is not at issue here.