Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When you quit, who owns your email?

When you get a job, you get an email address with it. You use that address mainly for work, but maybe also for personal communications.
When you leave, who owns those emails and who has the right to claim them? Is it your right to 'backup and leave'?

This is one of the most recent issues being raised by information-age workers, and it generates heated debate on IT website and employment blogs and forums.

On the one hand, anything you do at a company goes on that company's record and therefore is part of your employment history.

On the other hand, do you have the right to keep important communications and attached documents, maybe even secretive ones, when you are no longer associated with the company?
Isn't that the equivalent of opening a file cabinet at the office, making photocopies of your letters and important documents?

In the good old days, you couldn't do that, but now you can digitally.

Let's take a look at what happens when you leave a company.

You send an email to all contacts saying you are leaving, and that further communications maybe conducted with another colleague, then the IT Manager either automatically diverts every incoming email to this person or just backs-up your incoming messages and gives them to your department to review. Obviously, there's going to be loads of junk and several personal emails. Isn't that somewhat embarrassing?

Your former employer could scan for any interesting or revealing information.

And what about the personal messages you're not getting, aren't some of them important to you?

That's why it is advised that you only use your personal email (Gmail, Hotmail… etc) for 'personals' and never even use your company email when registering for a site or service. Simply, keep it professional.

Turning the tables on employers, are some voices now being raised about companies abusing your email address after you leave. By owning that address, the company may conduct communications in your name! In some cases, this could be a tool to discredit you or seek revenge for anything you've done.

I believe an employer who sticks to formal communications through his/her work email address, and who has done nothing wrong will never have a problem. And, feel an employer who realizes you’re professional enough and left the company on good terms, will not go fishing for info in your mail.

But, just imagine how many lawsuits and legal wrangles could emerge from this situation, if there is no clear legal procedure on who owns the email, what is allowed and what is not once you leave and so on.

As you can see, it's a messy and complex matter. Nowadays, as our lives go ‘fully electronic’ all kinds of questions will be asked, and the law has to step up to this new level of digital economy. n


At 7:31 PM , Anonymous Qwaider قويدر said...

The best policy in these situations is to reject all mail with (non-existing user) message.
This will alert all future communications to not go to that Email. Even personal ones will not get exposed.
As for company related material, the person sending will realize that the person he's trying to reach is no longer working there.

No one has the right to violate the employee privacy, even more so AFTER that employee moves on.

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