As a business, or even an individual, the daily mail can be overwhelming.  I once read a piece of advice that I personally still use to this day.  You only touch the mail once.  Once you get your mail, deal with it right then and there, sort it, organize it or throw it away.  Do not set it aside for later, for these are the piles that have crept up in your office or home and are now overwhelming you.  Now that my personal advice is out of the way, I can explain why this is important.

 We have a tendency to think that if it came in the “snail mail,” it’s probably not that important, which to some extent is true.  Except when the mail comes from a government agency.  They do not call, fax or email complaints against your business, even though we conduct our daily lives and businesses electronically.  Government mail is still sent the old fashioned way.  The government agencies are in full force right now.  People are out of work and cannot afford an attorney.  Therefore, the public’s use of  agencies are on a steep increase.  Employees are using the Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing to pursue their harassment claims rather than file in court.  Employees are using the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s new ‘Retaliation Division’ to file whistleblower complaints against their employers.  The federal Department of Labor is stepping in on behalf of employees for their FMLA violations, now more than ever.  These agencies have always been there.  However, the public’s use of their available resources has changed.  First, the agencies are getting better cases because the individual is opting out of taking their good case to an attorney and going straight to the agency, who will take this on for free.  Second, it used to be the case that such agencies were just a stepping stone to a lawsuit.  After all, you usually have to file the administrative claim before you can sue.  Now, many people are avoiding the lawsuit altogether and using the agency’s resources to file their claim and litigate that claim, should the agency choose to take on an employee’s case.  This trend is not to be ignored.  The government agencies mentioned in this article, for example, have power to subpoena documents and witnesses, and they can levy some serious penalties.  Businesses, employers and individuals need to pay attention.   

These administrative governmental agencies will usually send the complaints in the mail and call it anything from a charge or notice, to a claim, inquiry or investigation.  From the moment you open that piece of mail (assuming that you have checked your mail, opened it and dealt with it ‘once’..), the clock has started ticking.  Often times, there is a deadline for you to reply to a charge as soon as within 10 days in some cases, regardless of the holiday season or your preplanned vacation.  Ironically, despite the snail-mailing of important charges, the actual amount of time you have to respond to the charge can be extremely limited. 

Do not delay in responding.  Do not delay in conducting some basic research about the administrative agency.  And, read the mail.  In the papers sent to you, the agency will set forth the timeline and most importantly, your due process rights to have witnesses or documents in your favor, though some agencies lack the basic fundamental due process rights, in my opinion.    

Do not allow the intimidation of the government agency’s charge to affect how you handle this mail.  If you do, there is a tendency to set the mail aside and deal with it later.  ‘Later’ will result in a charge being admitted by your company or ‘later’ can result in severe problems trying to appeal the agency’s determination.  On the flip side, do not set the mail aside as unimportant simply because it is not from a court; agency mail is just as important and they enforce their orders in Court.  Most importantly, please seek legal advice.  Although the agency will often advise you that the hearing or meeting is “informal,” do not fall for this.  Whatever you say or provide to this agency is like talking to your spouse – it will be used in the case against you later!

Last piece of advice – make sure whomever retrieves and opens your mail knows what they’re doing; anything coming from the government, even if it looks informal or like an advertisement, goes to the head of the company, or a risk manager/human resources.  I have seen some agency’s letters advertising their latest program on the front of the envelope, which misleads the recipient into believing the letter must be regarding a new program, incentive system, regulation update, etc.  Do not make assumptions.  Treat your mail with respect. 

Joy C. Rosenquist handles the defense of administrative actions filed against businesses and individuals.  For more information on Rosenquist’s experience handling these governmental claims, please visit her biography on our website.