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What is an Email Disclaimer?

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As a business owner, your email communications are integral to running your business. While emails can help you obtain new business and achieve good sales figures, they can harm your company’s reputation and cause damage. For example, if your email is accidentally sent to the wrong person and contains confidential information, this can be detrimental to your business. This article will explore what an email disclaimer is and how it can help your business.

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Email Disclaimers

An email disclaimer is a statement that legally protects the email’s sender in various circumstances. The disclaimer usually sits at the bottom of each email and is usually written in a different font and size to stand out.

A vital purpose of an email disclaimer is to limit the sender’s liability. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for email disclaimers. Instead, what the disclaimer seeks to protect should be tailored to the relevant business and its activities.

Most email disclaimers (or email footers) aim to:

  • comply with mandatory trading disclosure requirements;
  • exclude liability for harm caused by computer viruses or malicious code;
  • request the recipient not to forward confidential information within the email to another party without the sender’s prior consent; or
  • request that any unintentional recipient immediately delete the email.

What Are The Benefits Of An Email Disclaimer?

There are many benefits to using an email disclaimer in your communications. Let us explore these in further detail below.

1. Protect Sensitive Email Content

An email disclaimer can enable you to protect your emails and their content if you accidentally send them to the wrong person. For example, your confidentiality statement may request the incorrect recipients to delete the email immediately. 

However, there is doubt whether email confidentiality notices are effective, especially as they are typically located below the sensitive information. Therefore, you should always prominently display confidentiality notices in emails. In addition, ensure you obtain legal advice before using them.

2. Display Mandatory Trading Information

Companies must disclose mandatory trading information. Therefore, you can utilise your email footer to set out the information you must legally display. A company or limited liability partnership must include information such as their:

  • registered name;
  • number; and 
  • address. 

Some businesses will also be subject to other regulatory requirements that require particular information to be disclosed in their emails.

3. Comply With Marketing Rules

Businesses often utilise marketing emails for promotions and newsletters. You can also use email footers (rather than disclaimers) to comply with direct marketing law rules. Unless limited exceptions apply, businesses must obtain consent before sending direct marketing emails. 

Even where an individual consents to receive marketing communications, you must give them the right to opt-out or unsubscribe from marketing emails. A fundamental way businesses can provide an opt-out right is by including a clear ‘unsubscribe’ link in their email footer. This will also demonstrate good practice in compliance with direct marketing laws.  

Ensure you take care when drafting email disclaimers. You should seek legal advice on how likely they are to be effective before relying on them, as they may not always be legally binding on the recipient. Nonetheless, email disclaimers may be helpful in deterring recipients from taking certain actions, such as sharing information in emails if you have a clear confidentiality notice.

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Further Steps To Protect Content Beyond Email Disclaimers

There are a few other ways your business can seek to protect the content of its emails.

Firstly, if the information within email communications is particularly sensitive, you can provide a password-protected file. You can then provide the password either by telephone or by follow-up email after triple-checking the email address of the intended recipient.

Further, most businesses have a policy of ‘check twice, send once’. Such a policy is akin to double-checking the full email address before sending. This has become popular because of the habit of email programs, such as Microsoft Outlook, to ‘autofill’ email addresses. Unfortunately, such autofill tools may accidentally lead to sending an email to an unintended recipient.

Many modern email programs now allow the sender to try and recall business and marketing emails. However, this does not always work and must take place quickly to avoid the recipient receiving and opening the email first. As such, it is not always reliable.

Given the possible limitations around confidentiality notices in email disclaimers, it is worth taking these practical steps to protect the content of emails further.

Key Takeaways

Email disclaimers can be a helpful way for your company to specify the appropriate use of an email’s contents. While they may not be legally binding on all recipients, they may give your business comfort that you have taken steps to protect the content of your emails. Email footers can also help you comply with legal requirements, such as displaying mandatory trading information if you are a limited company.

If you need help putting effective email disclaimers or email footers in place, our experienced data, privacy and IT lawyers can assist as part of our LegalVision membership. For a low monthly fee, you will have unlimited access to lawyers to answer your questions and draft and review your documents. Call us today on 0808 196 8584 or visit our membership page.

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