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What is an Email Disclaimer?

Présenté par Exclaimer

Email disclaimer definition

So what is an email disclaimer? In layman’s terms, an email disclaimer is a block of text that is added to an outgoing email to limit liability, often appearing at the bottom of an email signature as a separate section. The content will often include the company name, registered office address and company registration details which is a legal requirement for corporate email in many countries.

An email disclaimer example

This is frequently combined with a confidentiality notice along the lines of “This message contains confidential information and is intended only for…”. Naturally the reason for including one is simple: to avoid a fine or legal action.

Why might the law require me to have one?

There are many schools of thought as to whether or not email disclaimers are required by law.

An organization will generally add a legal disclaimer to:

  • Limit the sender’s personal liability for the content of a message, i.e. an employee sending defamatory statements, infringement of copyright, etc.
  • Cover confidentiality breaches protecting exposure of confidential information such as private data
  • Highlight that an email does not form the basis of a legally binding contact
  • Protect against being liable for any damages caused by negligent advice on behalf of an employee
  • Warn recipients against the possibility of an email carrying computer viruses

The specific content of any disclaimer text will vary according to where your emails are going and when. Sections of each disclaimer may require a level of personalization such as the actual sender’s name in order to fully comply with certain rules.

The issues with email disclaimers

So, why do email disclaimer have such a negative reputation? After all, businesses have been using them since the early days of email.

Opinions on them have always been subjective. Email disclaimers have been used for so long now that some believe that they carry no legal authority.

Other complaints around disclaimers in emails include:

  • Recipients ignoring them or not reading the content
  • Email conversations can get “flooded” with disclaimer text
  • They can look quite unpleasant particularly if they are very long
  • Some email clients such as OWA and Gmail may restrict the character count so the disclaimer might not fit

So, with these points in mind, should we still be using email disclaimers? Every corporate email sent without disclaimer text presents an opportunity to damage a company’s reputation. This can be through libellous comments, leaking of confidential data, copyright infringement, and transmission of viral content.

However, whether you like it or not, email disclaimers form part of the law in certain countries, particularly in North America and Europe. The threats of non-compliance could mean life and death for some organizations, while others can mean substantial fines.

Take the United States for example. It has the most complete set of disclaimer laws in the world. The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) states that for regulatory compliance, an appropriate disclaimer needs to be included in all email communications. This then filters down into different industries where there are different requirements.

There’s also the brand reputation impact of being seen to be non-compliant. The potential for lawsuits to be levied against companies for not having an email disclaimer is very real. Some laws can lead to fines up to the seven-figure range such as with Canada's Anti-Spam Law (CASL). You risk a one-time fine of up to $10m Canadian dollars if you don't use a compliant legal disclaimer.

View different email disclaimer laws

It is also important to add an email disclaimer to internal messages, which should be different from an external one, as different issues can arise. There have been a number of lawsuits that have occurred due to internal circulation of offensive emails.

Email disclaimer best practice

It’s always best to place the disclaimer somewhat apart from the rest of the signature, pretty much after the logo and display banner. As a simple rule-of-thumb, make sure the disclaimer font is small. No one wants their email completely taken over with a massive block of text.

Email disclaimer best practice

Other important points to consider with your email disclaimer include:

  • Choose a professional font (not Comic Sans)
  • Make sure it’s readable against light backgrounds – use a dark font
  • Don’t add everything and make it too lengthy
  • Append or prepend disclaimers
  • Make it easily visible against the email signature
  • Have the disclaimer written in text and not rendered as an image (screen reader)
  • Seek advice from your legal team – don’t just copy and paste a template from online

Conclusion

To protect your business, it is still highly advisable to use an appropriate legal disclaimer on your emails. It’s simply not worth the risk.

It’s true that email disclaimers will never provide you 100% protection against any legal action. Still, it makes sense to include disclaimers to provide an extra level of legal protection.

Remember also that laws continually change, so you need to make sure that you keep up. The text included in your email disclaimer might work in one region but not another.

It’s best to use dedicated email signature software to centrally manage all disclaimer content from one central location. With central management, you can always ensure that all users’ corporate emails consistently have the necessary legal disclaimer.

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