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Lost Packages

Is your employer responsible for your personal package delivered to your work?

By
Michael W. Flynn
April 28, 2012

First, a disclaimer: Although I am an attorney, the legal information in this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for seeking personalized legal advice from an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Further, I do not intend to create an attorney-client relationship with any listener.    

 
Today’s topic is getting packages delivered to work. An anonymous listener wrote:
 
I recently ordered about $200 worth of clothes for my daughter from an online store that requires an adult signature for all deliveries [and had it delivered to my wife’s workplac. Problem is: the carrier shows that the package was received, but my wife never got it.  
 
At this point, I am ready to ask my wife's employer to reimburse me for the value of the lost items. However, she is hesitant for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the package was personal, not business-related. My wife has even tried to convince me that having personal packages delivered to a business address is done at one's own risk. However, this doesn't ring true to me. I know many people who receive personal deliveries at their place of employment. If an employer would prefer that employees not receive personal packages at the workplace, then they should say so. … Is it unreasonable to expect to be repaid for the value of items in a package that was lost while in their custody, or are we just out of luck here?
 
The short answer here is that you are just out of luck. Your wife’s employer has no duty to care for your package. 

I am expecting a large package including several valuable items to be delivered to my office soon. So, I searched for any published case that would support a theory of recovery against an employer in this kind of situation. Sadly, I could not find one.  

 
The most likely theory in this case would be negligence. That is, Anonymous would allege that the employer was negligent in losing the package, or negligent in storing it. Negligence suits have some common elements: duty, breach, causation and damages. So, Anonymous would have to prove that the employer had a duty to hold the package safely, breached that duty when it lost the package, caused the package to be lost by failing to properly store it, and that he was damaged as a result.  
 
The problem here would be duty. The employer would successfully argue that it did not have a duty to accept and protect packages that its employees ordered. The employer might produce an employee handbook that indicates its policies on personal packages. If the policy prohibits personal packages, or expressly denies responsibility, then Anonymous cannot successfully argue that the employer had a duty to protect the package. The handbook might more broadly indicate that company property cannot be used for personal purposes. So, Anonymous would be prohibited from using the fax or postage machine to send materials unrelated to work. Similarly, that provision would prohibit Anonymous from using the office mailroom to store her personal property. 
 
If no such provision or instruction from the employer existed, then Anonymous would have to argue that there existed an implied duty to protect the package. To do so, Anonymous would have to prove that the employer had acted in a way in the past that would give rise to an inference that it was accepting responsibility to protect the package. Anonymous suggested that the employer did so when he reasoned that “If an employer would prefer that employees not receive personal packages at the workplace, then they should say so.” This reasoning is a bit stretched. Simply because the employer allows an employee to have packages delivered to the office, it does not mean that the employer then assumed responsibility for the package. Imagine a coat rack in a restaurant. Simply because the restaurant allows you to hang up your coat, it does not mean the restaurant accepts responsibility for protecting your coat while you dine.   
 
Last, an employer is not typically responsible for the criminal or tortious acts of its employees when those acts fall outside the scope of employment. It is likely that a coworker stole the package after it was signed for, perhaps after the coworker recognized where the package had come from. Anonymous might argue that the employer allowed the coworker to steal the package because its mailroom is open to everyone, but this line of reasoning would not likely sit well with a judge or a jury.  
 
[[AdMiddle]On a practical level, complaining to the company or threatening to seek damages would likely result in the company issuing a policy whereby no personal packages may be delivered. Many of us get packages delivered to work because they require a signature, and many of us are not home during business hours to sign for things. Complaining might ruin this for everyone.  
 
Sorry, Anonymous, you are out of luck. 
 
Thank you for listening to Legal Lad’s Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Lawful Life. Be sure to take the listener survey by clicking on the green 5 to the right of the transcript.
 
You can send questions and comments to legal@qdnow.com. Please note that doing so will not create an attorney-client relationship and will be used for the purposes of this podcast only.
 
Legal Lad's theme music is "No Good Layabout" by Kevin MacLeod.

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