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I work in the United States; would be inappropriate or otherwise wrong for me to use my workplace's postage machine to send a first class letter for my tax returns?

I know that sending personal mail (for instance, sending a letter or a package to a personal friend) on the company's bill would be inappropriate or unethical, but in this circumstance I'm not sure, given the contents are more of an official/legal nature related to my employment.

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    Just ask -- the last time I needed to mail some correspondence from work, I asked the mail room if I could buy postage, they just put it in the pile with company mail and said they'd stamp it. Sure, it cost the company 50 cents, but it would have cost them far more than that in lost time if I took the 45 minutes to drive to the post office myself. – Johnny Nov 2 '16 at 20:19
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    Depending on the office culture, this sort of thing can be handled with a coin jar. Simply drop the cost in coins into the jar when you do a non-work mail. – Criggie Nov 2 '16 at 23:15
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    I heartily agree with the "just ask", and in fact the best thing is to ask "how can I pay for this?" rather than asking if it's ok to just use it. There might already be a simple mechanism. They might also not care. But you definitely, absolutely, want to ask first. – msouth Nov 3 '16 at 14:45
  • Yes. Use of the work post machine for personal purposes is either theft or theft of service (I think theft because you are "stealing" the cost of the postage) – DwB Nov 3 '16 at 16:06
  • "I know some companies allow employees to pay for their postage from the machine to send a personal letter. Do you do that here or should I go to the post office during my break/after work/whenever?" You'll either be told it's not allowed, told how to pay for it, or told it's free." If the culture at your workplace is such where it would be uncomfortable to ask, that's a good sign the answer is "no" and you can proceed accordingly. – Zach Lipton Nov 3 '16 at 21:50
104

Yes, it would be inappropriate. It doesn't matter that they are official documents, they're still personal documents - i.e. not part of the company's business. There's no reason your employer should pay for your personal life.

And frankly, it's a first class stamp.

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  • "Frankly" - was that an unintended pun? Agreed, however you may still find they have a system in place for personal mail so I'd ask somebody before making the trip out to the post office. – Ilythya Nov 3 '16 at 14:34
  • Inappropriate indeed. Especially for people in the USA where it's typically a LOT more than just a first class stamp! Our tax forms here can be closer to mailing in a bible than a letter... – Brian Knoblauch Nov 3 '16 at 14:34
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    @BrianKnoblauch the asker did say "to send a first class letter" -- not "to send my entire tax return"... so I think the assumption of a first-class stamp is perfectly valid. – Doktor J Nov 3 '16 at 17:21
  • No sense in getting fired over a stamp - about 50 cents. Most people's tax returns in the USA are only a few pieces of paper. I have never mailed more than 3 sheets. Unless you own a business or a pyramid scam... – Hannover Fist Nov 3 '16 at 23:48
43

I know that sending personal mail (for instance, sending a letter or a package to a personal friend) on the company's bill would be inappropriate or unethical

If that's the case at your company, then certainly sending your personal tax return on the company's bill is equally inappropriate.

And if you aren't sure if it's appropriate - just ask your boss if it would be okay.

And if you don't feel comfortable even asking, then I think you already know the answer.

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15

It's inappropriate. It's your private mail.

But then, nobody really cares unless you have a first grade penny pincher.

But then, should there be an occasion where your company wants to get rid of you, someone may have noted what you've done and it might just be enough rope to hang you. Especially in Europe, where layoffs can be quite costly, the money that you saved on a stamp might cost you thousands when everyone else is laid off with some generous compensation, except you get fired for misconduct.

Summary: Don't do it.

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    This answer would be more accurate without the last sentence. It would be even more costly in Europe to fire anyone without a cause that's sure to hold up in court. (Extra grave misconduct = instant dismissal, grave misconduct = same rules as if they are just reorganizing, it just stains the CV more.) – Jirka Hanika Nov 2 '16 at 17:46
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    "first grade penny pincher " I saw an article a while back about some employee who was billed for the electricity used because he charged his cell phone at the office. (Well, yes, it was in some tabloid, but the fact that it's even plausible suggests that there are workplaces like that.) – MickeyfAgain_BeforeExitOfSO Nov 2 '16 at 19:07
  • @mickeyf: If you mean the case of Mohammed Sheikh, that one wasn't just in tabloids. He wasn't billed for the electricity but his employment was terminated immediately, though the employer reinstated the former contract after a mediation hearing at court. He also agreed to loose ½h worth of wages (though before begin terminated and without a legal obligation to do so). The cost of the proceedings were covered by the state because Sheikh was on social security. – David Foerster Nov 2 '16 at 20:30
  • @JirkaHanika "It would be even more costly in Europe to fire anyone without a cause that's sure to hold up in court." Maybe so, but a typical UK employment contract gives the employer the right to assign any duties whatever to you "to meet the requirements of the business". If you are happy to spend your work time cleaning the toilets (and even if they can't cut your salary, you are never ever going to get a promotion, or a reference, from the company!) you don't have anything to lose... – alephzero Nov 3 '16 at 2:04
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    @alephzero, not really true, as I understand it. Radically changing your duties to something not in line with reasonable expectations for your position may be constructive dismissal in UK law, and the employee may have a claim against the employer. (IANAL of course). – user45590 Nov 3 '16 at 8:57
7

Simple solution, ask your boss.

I've sent many an item using the office post (and even via courier from time to time). Each time, I've just asked the boss.

If your boss says no, don't push. Just ask for a longer lunch break tomorrow so you can head to the post office.

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    Not a good idea, as per @PhilipKendall's comment. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 2 '16 at 16:14
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    @StephanKolassa I guess it depends on the culture – JohnHC Nov 2 '16 at 16:16
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    @StephanKolassa I wouldn't ask if your boss found it appropriate, but you could ask your boss, "Hey boss, can I send my tax return using our postage machine?" Many places have a, "reasonable personal use" policy. The price of first class postage probably falls under that, but when in doubt, ask your boss. – Wayne Werner Nov 2 '16 at 16:24
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    I agree that asking is okay, but displaying entitlement when your request is rejected is not okay. Do not even jokingly ask for an "extra long lunch break" to take care of what was and always has been your business in the first place. – user42272 Nov 2 '16 at 23:05
  • @djechlin Yes. In the U.S. there are plenty of places where you can buy stamps in the evenings and weekends, you don't need to take time off work to do that. If you want to send it certified mail, you can always go to the post office on Saturday, or get it into your lunch break without taking extra time. Saying "you won't give me 47 cents? then I'll take an extra-long lunch break!" just sounds obnoxious to me. – Jay Nov 3 '16 at 6:42
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Without explicit permission, it is theft, plain and simple.

Failing that, it is still unethical, rude, crude, socially unacceptable boarding on the immoral, and possibly fattening.

Even with permission, it would be sketchy at best. As a general rule, never mix the private life with the work life.

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    This seems like a pretty blanket statement that doesn't account for different work environments/cultures. Where I work, people commonly use printers and postage for personal reasons. In some ways it's an unofficial "perk" of working here, and no one cares to police it or regulate it. We just act like adults for the most part and no one minds. – Trevor Nov 2 '16 at 16:48
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    With permission it's entirely fine and NOT sketchy at all. It's the same as free snacks or free coffee. It's beneficiary for the company if the employee doesn't have to run out and to errands. – Hilmar Nov 3 '16 at 15:49
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Your personal tax return is a personal matter - even if it directly impacts your employment, you have to handle it on your own time. That includes mailing it out.

I'm not sure why you'd want to mail it through your employer anyway - if you do, you'll have no record of the fact that you've mailed it, and could potentially call your tax return into question by involving your employer directly in something that is supposed to be between you and a trusted tax return expert.

Pay the postage at the post office. Get the return postmarked. Get a receipt for your postage. All of these things prove that you mailed out your tax return on the appropriate date, and act as records in case something were to happen during shipping - none of which you get from using the office mailing service.

This is your livelihood at stake, and you should take personal responsibility for it.

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    Adding to this, if you are near the deadline (and this Q is 2 weeks after Oct 15) IRS (and TTBOMK all states) treats a return and/or payment postmarked by USPS before or on the deadline date as on-time (hence no late penalty), even though it is actually delivered 2-4 days later. Private meters don't get this trust. However a receipt for postage doesn't prove you mailed anything specific; 'certificate of mailing' does for $1.30, or 'certified mail' also confirms delivery (online) for $3.30 (that's what I use). – dave_thompson_085 Nov 2 '16 at 22:41
  • This doesn't add anything to the other 12 "nay" vote answers. – user42272 Nov 2 '16 at 23:03
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    @djechlin Two things. 1: There were only 3 or 4 of those when I posted this. 2: What it adds is the context for why you, personally, do not stand to gain for using the office mailing supplies. Legal and professional reasons aside, there are good reasons you would want to personally mail your own tax return at the post office and not involve your employer, and I've named them here. I added a bit of extra text to emphasize this. – Zibbobz Nov 3 '16 at 12:51
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Wow, how much time have we all now spent discussing an expenditure of 47 cents?

First off, your personal taxes are your personal taxes. There is nothing business-related about them. The fact that they are "official" and "legal" does not make them business-related. If you get a speeding ticket on your way to the grocery store, that's "official" and "legal", but it has nothing to do with the company. I suppose your taxes are "business-related" in the sense that the income comes from the company, but by that reasoning, anything you spend money on is business-related. If you take your girlfriend to a movie, you're probably spending money you got from the company. That does not make it a business-related event.

As others have said, the simple answer is: Ask. In many companies, such minimal use of company resources is considered a perk of the job. Plenty of companies allow employees to use company phones to make personal phone calls, to use company-provided pens and paper to write a shopping list, etc, as long as the use is minimal and you don't take excessive time away from work. At other companies, even the smallest use of company resources for personal use is an offense that can get you fired. Big companies tend to have formal policies about such things printed in an employee manual. At smaller companies you just have to ask the boss what's acceptable.

If company policy says no, I can't imagine that it's worth arguing over the cost of a stamp. The only reason why this question is even worth spending five minutes discussing is that the issue could come up many times.

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  • Personal tax returns are related to earning money and employment - happy employee, successful business. – Mars Robertson Nov 3 '16 at 12:38
  • @MichalStefanow Taking your girlfriend to a movie might make for a happier employee and a more successful business. That doesn't make it a business activity that would make it appropriate to use company resources. ("But boss, when I make out with my girlfriend, it relieves stress and makes me a more productive employee, so I just naturally assumed it was okay for us to do it in the stock room on company time.") – Jay Nov 3 '16 at 18:53
  • Almost everything you do with your salary is personal. The fact that you used money paid by the company doesn't make it business. You can't demand that the company's receptionist wash your car because you bought the car with your salary. Yes, it's related to "money" and "employment", but it's still personal, and not the company's responsibility to subsidize. – Jay Nov 3 '16 at 18:55
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    I'll try to ask my boss to pay for cinema tickets. – Mars Robertson Nov 3 '16 at 21:39
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When working at an accounting firm, I was heading out on my lunch to the post office. The CEO of the firm said, "just use our postage meter."

In this scenario, you're in the clear. For the rest of the year, I mailed about 5-10 envelopes per month from the office. A partner of the firm caught me and said for everyone to hear, 'are you using our postage meter for personal mail!' I told her I was, ever since CEO said to so as to save myself from wasting my lunchtime at the PO.

The reason this was okay was because it was the CEO's money I was spending. And he was willing to have me mail out $50/year so that I wasn't doing something like coming in after 9:00, or maybe leaving one day before 4:00 to make it to the PO.

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  • Welcome to The Workplace. While your anecdote is interesting, I don't think it does much to answer the question that has been asked. I've not downvoted myself, but others may. – Matthew Barber Feb 26 '19 at 2:02
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You ask about US.

In the UK many corporate offices have postage machines.

On the first day: "here is canteene, here are showers, here is the postage machine..."

Cost of going to the post office and waiting in line = 30 minutes at least.

It is acceptable to use postage machine. Just pay for the thing. Honesty box system can work for small things like that.

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    Presumably if there was an honesty box in front of the postage machine with a sign on it saying "please pay for your personal postage here," the OP wouldn't have asked this question, because the answer would be obvious. – Zach Lipton Nov 3 '16 at 21:53

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