Can my employer open mail addressed to me at work?

With all the anthrax threats recently, my employer implemented a procedure of opening all mail received before distributing it to the individual. Is this legal, or is this allowed if the letter is addressed to the employer (or employer’s address)? Thanks.

Posted 11-01-2001

Ann Kiernan replies:

Yes, an employer can open the mail addressed to the business or its employees, for any legitimate business reason. The postal regulations require that all mail addressed to a government or non-government organization or to an individual by name or title at the address of the organization is delivered to the organization. If any disagreement arises as to where any such mail should be delivered, it must be delivered under the order of the organization’s president or equivalent official. (Domestic Mail Manual 55, Sec. D042.4.1)

In other words, once the Postal Service carrier delivers the mail to a business, it’s up to the business to decide how to distribute it internally. But, an employer can’t obstruct delivery of employee mail, or destroy it, or open it with the intent of prying. Those are all federal crimes! (18 U.S. Code Secs. 1701-1703)

Information here is correct at the time it is posted. Case decisions cited here may be reversed. Please do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney first.


About the Author:

Ann Kiernan has litigated claims of wrongful discharge and discrimination before state and federal courts and administrative matters before the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the National Labor Relations Board and the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, representing both employers and employees. Ms. Kiernan co-hosted The Employee Rights Forum, a weekly radio call-in show reaching up to a half-million listeners in the New York metropolitan area, and her articles on employment law have been published in many books and magazines. Both as a firm partner and as a director, Ms. Kiernan gained solid experience in management and human resources compliance. She has worked with Fair Measures since 1997.