8

Our receptionist has an annoying habit of opening letters addressed to me, and then handing the letter to me. I have asked several other members of staff and it seems like she doesn't do this with anyone else.

She's generally quite polite to me otherwise.

If a letter is addressed as follows:

My Name

Company Name

Company Address

is our receptionist allowed to open that letter?

The envelope doesn't say private or confidential on it anywhere.

I work for a software development company based in Dublin.

9
  • 1
    @rath personal, so I really shouldn't be sending them to my office in the first place.
    – Daft
    Feb 15 '17 at 11:26
  • 5
    Have you asked her not to open your mail?
    – David K
    Feb 15 '17 at 13:18
  • 11
    @user2338816 In times of powdered anthrax, the places that worry about that sort of thing have ways to detect it before forcing your receptionist to risk her life opening every single piece of mail. Your logic makes no sense.
    – David K
    Feb 15 '17 at 14:22
  • 7
    @user2338816 there was little to no powdered anthrax in the envelope.
    – Daft
    Feb 15 '17 at 14:59
  • 1
    Just saying: If the company says she can't open those letters, then she can't, and that's it. If the company says she can open those letters, then read all of the answers... So the first thing is to ask her boss if she is allowed to or supposed to open your letters.
    – gnasher729
    Feb 16 '17 at 17:18
15

We can't answer the legal question for you; if that's what you're asking, you need to talk to a lawyer, not the Internet.

But in general terms, you generally have little privacy at work - the letter is being sent to the company, so it's not "your" letter, it's your employer's, and they can do with it as they like. If it's work related, I can't see that you have any complaints. If it's personal, don't have personal mail sent to your work address.

3
  • 3
    I will add that there is some expectation of privacy at work still, hence why you should find a lawyer. Feb 15 '17 at 14:37
  • 2
    Still worth at least asking her to stop though.... Its not clear at all if there is some policy of opening letters or if its just a nosy receptionist. Worst comes to worst she'll say she can't because of XYZ. Feb 15 '17 at 15:05
  • @DavidGrinberg This should be the first course of action IMO. I see nothing in the original post to suggest the OP has actually talked to the receptionist in question and it is very likely that doing so will either cause the behaviour to stop or at the very least OP should receive some reasoning why the behaviour is necessary (company policy, etc.).
    – Trebor
    Feb 15 '17 at 16:22
10

In Germany, it depends on the address:

My Name

Company Name

Company Address

This is a letter to you personally, residing at the company. The company is not allowed to open it on your behalf without your agreement. Please note that the company secretary might not know or care and just open all correspondence. She was hired for her organisational skills, not legal. And people might not care. That still doesn't mean it's correct to open your letters.

Company Name

My Name

Company Address

This is a letter addressed to the company, with your name on it so the company knows how to route it internally. A company representative in a charge of the mail is free to open it and do whatever s/he pleases, including just routing it to you.

You will need to check what your jurisdiction says about this.

7
  • In the UK (and Ireland) i'm pretty sure that if the item is sent to the company then it's up to them how they handle incoming mail as the mail is for the company, not the individual Feb 15 '17 at 11:31
  • 3
    I don't think this is true - AFAIK only mail explicitly marked as confidential/personal ("vertraulich"/"persönlich") is protected. As long as it's addressed to the company, they can open it. Anyway, this is legal and thus off-topic.
    – sleske
    Feb 15 '17 at 11:44
  • 1
    @AndrewBerry I didn't mean to imply that I knew anything about UK or Ireland, I wrote the answer when the question had no tags... I only saw the location somewhere in the question when I edited it :)
    – nvoigt
    Feb 15 '17 at 11:50
  • 5
    @sleske Feel free to read Zustellanweisung. Writing the personal name first implies a c/o in the second line, while writing the company first implies a z.Hd. in the second line. Officially, with both terms missing and assuming nothing is implied, "gilt das Postgeheimnis bis zu dem adressierten Mitarbeiter.".
    – nvoigt
    Feb 15 '17 at 11:56
  • 2
    I think this discussion indicates why we don't do legal advice :-) Feb 15 '17 at 12:05
5

The mail is delivered to the company for the attention of a person, so the company can determine their processes for mail. So yes, the receptionist is allowed to open mail that has the company address on as the mail is being sent to the company for your attention.

1

The legal issue of whether the employer is entitled to open the OP's mail is out of scope, but in many jurisdictions a company can open mail addressed to someone at the company and not marked "personal".

That leaves the issue of company policy and custom. The key question is whether the receptionist decided to open the OP's mail, or management told them to do that.

I suggest asking the receptionist "Why do you open my mail?". Unless the opening was ordered by management or there is a good reason, explain that you would prefer to get the sealed envelope. If that does not work, talk to your manager.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .