What rights do I have when my employer’s receptionist repeatedly invades my privacy by opening my personal mail? I don’t want my husband to have advance knowledge of certain of my purchases, so I use my work address, but because I work from home part of the week, I’m not always here to intercept the daily mail delivery.
Even though many of these packages have return addresses that should cue the receptionist they’re personal, she opens at least half of them.
At our recent team retreat, I brought the receptionist’s snooping to everyone’s attention. She got teary eyed and said, “I can’t always tell when incoming mail is personal from the return addresses” and ran out of the room.
At that point, our manager jumped down my throat. He said if I had a problem to take it up with him because he had tasked the receptionist to open mail to save everyone time.
After the retreat, our boss called me on the carpet. He said I’d humiliated the receptionist. I said I thought the retreat was a place where we were to say whatever was on our minds. I reminded him that the receptionist didn’t have to open my mail given that my name was on my packages and that it was a privacy breach that she had looked at what I was buying. I said the simple answer would be for her to put any mail for me on my desk.
He told me I was out of line, that the receptionist was not a snoop and that that he expected me to apologize to the receptionist. He said if I planned to have more packages arrive at the office, I was to notify the receptionist in in advance and give her the name of the organization and its return address.”
What are my privacy rights if I forget and she opens another of my packages?
You can best protect your privacy rights by renting a post office box.
You and other employees have privacy rights against employer or co-worker snooping. No one should look into your purse or open letters marked personal and confidential.
At the same time, your workplace doesn’t revolve around you. In most organizations and particularly during the pandemic with many employees working partiall off-site, administrative personnel open and distribute all incoming mail so that anything needing a timely response gets one.
Do you have any reason to suspect your company’s receptionist wanted to see what you’d purchased? Her not opening half of the mail coming to you indicates she was doing her best to distinguish private from workplace mailings.
It doesn’t appear you regret publicly accusing coworker her of bad behavior. While retreats are great places to say what’s on one’s mind, they’re not a forum for airing personal grievances you haven’t verified. I agree with your boss; you owe the receptionist an apology.
© 2020, Lynne Curry: Lynne Curry is the author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” (AMACOM, 2016) and “Solutions” (both books are rated 4.8 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com). Send your questions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on twitter @lynnecurry10.