Whether you're a sole proprietor or you have 100 employees, opening the mail has taken on a new significance in the wake of several recent anthrax cases. Though to date only media companies and government agencies have been specifically targeted, business owners nationwide are taking new precautions both when sending and receiving mail.
If the worst-case scenario were to happen--and you discover an anthrax infection at your business--you can be held liable. "As a general proposition, any exposure to harmful substances in the workplace subjects an employer to liability under the state worker's compensation scheme," says attorney Diana P. Scott, a shareholder in the litigation and labor and employment practices of Greenberg Traurig LLP's Los Angeles office. "This is true even in the absence of negligence by the employer. [You] cannot denounce or disavow potential liability through warnings or disclaimers that employees are working 'at their own risk.'"
Suggestions from Scott on how to create a safe mail environment at your business include:
- Educating your staff on how to watch for suspicious mail.
- Instructing workers to dispose of any suspicious packages or letters in the garbage, closing off the immediate area and reporting the matter to you or another appropriate person on your staff.
- Having everyone who came into contact with a suspicious package wash their hands immediately, avoid touching their face or someone else, and seek medical attention.
Two of the best resources for educating your employees on safe mail-handling practices are the guidelines set forth by the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the FBI (see "Resource Guide"). Companies like Mail Boxes Etc. are referring their franchisees to these guidelines, as well as enforcing their own security procedures.
At The Ink Well, a commercial printing and mailing company in Wheaton, Illinois, owned by our PR expert Al Lautenslager, employees are following USPS guidelines for opening mail. "As far as outgoing mail, any new mailing customer has to be approved by me, just like a credit application has to be approved," says Lautenslager. "All employees working with outgoing mail customers and mail have a general heightened sense of awareness."
If you're sending out mail on a large scale, such as a direct-mail campaign, you'll want to be diligent in creating a safe mail appearance so your recipients don't just throw it in the trash. "Putting your logo with a clear return address is essential. Putting a URL or 800 number [on the envelope] assures folks that they're receiving from a reputable marketer," says Louis Mastria of the Direct Marketing Association. "E-mail, telemarketing and postcards play a part in the short-term crisis, as a way to pre-notify people of upcoming mail."