Snoop in the office

Question:

What rights do I have when our receptionist intentionally, repeatedly invades my privacy by opening my personal mail? Because I don’t always want my husband to have advance knowledge of some of my purchases, I’m forced to use my work address. Despite the fact that most of these packages have return addresses that should clearly cue the receptionist that 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 red in the face, burst into tears and said, “I can’t always tell when it’s personal from the return addresses,” and then left the room. After the retreat, our boss called me on the carpet for humiliating the receptionist. I suggested a simple solution — that she put everyone’s mail on their desks. He told me, “Her opening the mail saves everyone’s time. If you plan to have packages arrive at the office, notify her in advance and give her the name of the organization and its return address.” This is unfair. What are my privacy rights if she opens another package?

Answer:

You can best protect your privacy by renting a post office box.

Your boss asks your receptionist to open incoming mail and appropriately came to her defense when you publicly slammed her. The fact that your receptionist doesn’t open half of your mail suggests that she’s making an effort to respect your privacy. Your boss gave you a viable option — you can let your receptionist know when you’re expecting a package.

You and other employees do have privacy rights against employer or co-worker snooping. No one should look into your purse. But don’t expect your workplace to revolve around you. In most organizations, an administrative person opens and distributes all incoming mail, because it comes to the workplace.

My thought: You need to apologize to the receptionist. You accused her of snooping for doing her job. If there’s unfairness here, it’s yours.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”   Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”   Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm    The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter    @lynnecury10 or at  www.bullywhisperer.com

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