I work in an American company where the mail is unreliable. A client sent some goods back by mail (which we don’t usually use). I accepted the parcel but only afterwards did I realize that the box had a hole. I could have still run after the postman but I thought that I’ll anyway be too late as I already signed the acceptance letter. After opening the box (after an hour), it was confirmed that the goods were stolen. Am I obligated to pay my employer for the stolen goods?
In order to answer the question, we have to first analyze what you did. By signing the receipt from the postal system, you absolved them of responsibility for the theft of your company’s property when it was entrusted to the postal authority. Had you not signed, your company would have received payment from the postal system for the stolen goods. By signing on behalf of the company, you forfeited payment. Therefore, by signing you caused the company a loss. There are causative actions for which one is liable in beis din and others for which one is only liable in the Heavenly court. In order to know whether you are liable for the damage you caused, we have to look for analogous situations in the Gemara and Poskim.
There are actually a few cases in the Gemara and Poskim which are similar to your case and they will guide us.
It is not clear from the question what you actually signed. It will not make a halachic difference in the outcome, but the reasoning is different depending on what you actually signed.
It could be that you absolved the postal system of its liability. This type of situation is discussed in the Gemara. The rule is that someone who sells a loan contract of his to someone else who will collect the debt, retains the power to forgive the borrower of his debt. Of course, if the seller exercises this right he causes damage to the one who purchased the loan document from him, since he renders the loan document worthless. The Gemara (Kesubos 86A) rules that the such a seller is liable for the damages he caused to his buyer, since this falls into the category of garmi. This is ruled in the Shulchan Aruch (66, 32). The Shach (note 109) writes that since it is garmi the seller must pay the entire value of the loan and not just what the buyer paid for the document.
Even if you didn’t sign that you are absolving the postal system of its liability but just wrote that the package arrived intact, you are still liable. A similar case, which is discussed in the Gemara (Bava Kama 98A), is where someone burned a lender’s loan contract. When one burns a loan contract he does not absolve the borrower of paying his debt. Rather, he just destroys the proof the lender had, that the loan is owed.
Similarly, in your case, even if you did not absolve the postal system of its liability, you destroyed the proof your company had that the contents were stolen. Until you signed, your company could have claimed that the contents were stolen. The Gemara rules that one who burned a loan contract is liable for the value of that loan document. The value is generally not the entire amount of the loan (since there are many factors to consider) but it is the value of the document if it were sold.
In your case you didn’t burn up the document but you rendered it ineffective. This case is also discussed by Poskim. The Shach (386, 22) cites the Maseis Binyomin (res. 85) who ruled that if someone who was entrusted with an unpaid loan contract, returned it to the borrower, he is liable. The Shach comments that this is obvious since this is analogous to one who burned a loan document. Thus we can derive that one is liable for rendering ineffective a proof of an unpaid liability.
All of the above is true even if you had not been an employee of the company. Since you were acting as an employee of the company there is an additional reason why you are liable.
This can also be derived from a Gemara (Bovo Metsiyo 42B). The case in the Gemara involved a guardian of orphans who purchased an ox on their behalf from a cow dealer and gave the ox to a cowherd to care for. The ox didn’t have any teeth and starved to death as a result. The Gemara says the cowherd is liable since he should have noticed that the ox wasn’t eating and seen that the reason was its lack of teeth.
The Shitto Mekubetses explains that the reason the cowherd, and no one else, is liable is that since the seller was just a dealer it was expected that the cowherd will inspect the ox and handle it accordingly or return it to the seller. Since he did not report anything was amiss, it was tantamount to his reporting that everything was in order. The Shitto writes that this is similar to the case in the Gemara (Bava Kama 99) of a coin expert who was asked if a coin was counterfeit and he replied that it was not, when in truth it was counterfeit. The Gemara says the expert is liable since he should have investigated carefully before giving his answer. Similarly, explains the Nesevos (232, 7) since the cowherd did not alert the proper people that the ox was lacking teeth, it is like he gave wrong guidance and is liable.
Similarly, in your case, as the employee of the company charged with accepting parcels, the company relied upon you to inspect parcels before signing that it was received. Therefore, it is as if you gave the company bad advice and you are liable again as garmi.
In conclusion, you are liable for the damage your company suffered as a result of your negligence.