Your Legal Obligations Concerning Emails at Work


We have all heard of the horror stories about an employee who made a comment in an email message that later came to haunt him or her in a civil lawsuit or viral news story. These days, most of us have come to accept that an email message is an electronic document that can have legal implications, but many employees and business owners are not aware of just how serious the legal obligations concerning emails at work really are. Here is what you need to know.

Follow Federal Email Retention Requirements

Companies are now legally obligated to archive business related emails for anywhere from three years to permanently. Virtual data rooms are extremely useful for the storing and distribution of documents. The exact length of time that your correspondence must be archived varies based on the nature of the message, and there are also state and local laws pertaining to email retention that vary from region to region. The general rule of thumb is that a companies emails should be archived for three years, but a mid sized or large business should consider speaking with a legal professional before instituting an email retention policy.

Use Your Real Name

While you might enjoy the comfort of using anonymity when you are computing from home, using a fake name in your business e-mails can land you in some hot water. The United States CAN SPAM Act of 2003 provides stiff penalties for businesses that misrepresent themselves with a fraudulent name in a commercial setting. These penalties can include fines of up to $15,000, and some criminal charges related to the CAN SPAM Act having even resulted in jail time. Although this legislation was meant to be used to deter spammers from flooding email servers, the act has been used in civil suits in matters that had nothing to do with spam.

Use Accurate Subject Headings

You are also legally obligated to use accurate subject headings when you are using email for commercial purposes. The United States CAN SPAM Act does not permit businesses to send clients or potential customers email messages with misleading subject headings that mislead the recipient into opening the message only to find an advertisement or other message that is not irrelevant message. To play it safe, just make sure that your emails have a clear, concise subject heading that properly describes the topic of your message.

Institute a Formal Email Policy

It is not enough to explain to your employees the importance of treating the electronic correspondence with the same level of professionalism that they approach other aspects of their job. Draft up a formal email policy and, if possible, have a lawyer review the document to make sure that you have covered all of the major legal obligations related to email. Distribute a hard copy of your formal email policy to all of your employees, and consider requesting their signatures to acknowledge that they have received and understand the new policy.