The Top 10 Email Disclaimer DOs & DON’Ts
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It’s not the most thrilling part of business, but the email disclaimer is a matter of lawful and safe operation for many organizations.
Email disclaimers and email law
Don’t worry if this all seems a little overwhelming. Read our top 10 email disclaimer DOs & DON'Ts and make sure that your organization is compliant with email law.
1. DON’T forget an email disclaimer
Whether you like it or not, having an email disclaimer is LAW in certain countries, particularly in North America and Europe.
It still makes absolute sense for companies of all sizes to use email disclaimers to protect their brand reputation and corporate liability. And they are seen to be legally-binding by some who treat email signatures, which a disclaimer is part of, as any other electronic signature.
2. DO understand the legal consequences
You don’t want to break the law, do you? Well if you don’t include an appropriate disclaimer, you very well could be. There are plenty of opportunities for just one email to damage your company’s reputation. This could be through libellous comments that don't necessarily represent your corporate values, the leaking of confidential data, copyright infringement, and even a virus transmitted accidentally.
For example, if you are a registered limited company in the UK, the law dictates that you MUST include your company registration number, registered address and, if required, a VAT number in all email communications. The penalty for not doing so is a one-time fine of £1,000 and further daily fines of up to £100 until the offence is corrected. This is not negotiable and other countries within the EU and North America have similar laws.
A disclaimer also adds another level of legal protection for elements like infringement of copyright or trademark notices to every email. They are designed as a way of protecting companies in an era of digital communication, so don’t think adding one is just a chore.
3. DO understand what is required in a disclaimer
The content in an email disclaimer will often include the company name, registered office address and company registration details which is a legal requirement for corporate email in many countries as mentioned above.
For sensitive emails, it is advisable to add a confidentiality header that states for whom the message is intended. The confidentiality notice should be included at the top of the email, since it will be the first thing a recipient will read. Putting the notice at the bottom of the email will mean that the person needs to read the email first, only after which they might be informed that they were not actually allowed to do so.
4. DON’T add everything
When people complain about email signatures, it’s usually with regards to lengthy disclaimers. There is actually no need to have an extensive email disclaimer that is akin to War & Peace.
You can use a few lines and include a link to a longer version online with more detailed information if required. You only want to include appropriate information that protects your organization against damages or other liabilities arising.
Below is an example of a good size disclaimer:
5. DO add disclaimers to internal email
The internal disclaimer text should be different from an external disclaimer. For instance, computer viruses and being liable for any damage is not really applicable to internal emails. However, the confidentiality and employer’s liability aspects are all the more important to disclaim against.
You can include a global internal disclaimer that gets added to every internal email or create user/departmental based internal disclaimers. This way, it highlight that internal emails are solely for employee consumption only. It is important to note there have actually been lawsuits due to the internal circulation of offensive emails.
6. DON’T think you won’t get punished for not having one
Few businesses are thrilled about having to use email disclaimers, but many have been hurt by ignoring them. You need to ensure you keep up to date with any law changes and update your email disclaimer accordingly.
For example, you might start trading in a country that has new legal requirements or offer a product/service that falls within a particular law’s remit. It is important that you are always aware of email disclaimer regulations appropriate to your industry and geographic region.
7. DO add different disclaimers per department
It is a good idea to include different disclaimers for each department since different issues can apply. For instance, the sales department might need to include a notice that all quotes are valid for 30 days and that the company’s terms and conditions apply to all orders.
Financial departments, on the other hand, will send more sensitive messages and would require a disclaimer stressing the confidentiality aspect.
8. DON’T add disclaimers to every email in a conversation
It’s very easy for disclaimers to flood an email chain with loads of text. It can even reach a point where you struggle to read the actual message content.
When you’re the first sender in a conversation, place the email disclaimer apart from the rest of the signature. This way, the recipient sees your logo and potential marketing banner before they notice the disclaimer.
When you’re replying to a recipient, put your email signature below your own message but the disclaimer at the very bottom of the chain. That way, it’s still in the message, so you’re legally compliant, but it’s in a location where it doesn’t become annoying.
9. DON’T get caught out
With all the regulations out there, particularly the Canadian Anti-Spam Law, and the stiff penalties that can be applied to your organization, it is better to prepare for any eventualities than to do nothing.
It is best practice to create an email disclaimer that is specific to your organization and the country you are based in. This is then strictly enforced as standard company policy. This means you are less likely to run into legal complications over email in the future.
10. DO choose a dedicated solution to do it for you
In order to enforce disclaimers across an entire company, third-party email signature software can be used to implement disclaimer variations based on the situation of the email sender. Current email systems simply don’t provide the automation required to achieve full disclaimer compliance.
With central management, you ensure that all users’ corporate emails consistently have a professional email signature with a compliant legal disclaimer.
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