Managing Incoming Employee Email

Dear Email Diva,

Is a business that hosts its own mail server required to deliver only certain or all emails to the recipient specified in the email header? Is the business allowed to block or withhold emails from delivery, based on content? If email is withheld, is the business required to store the withheld email, and for how long? Is the business allowed to block certain emails (based on content or sender) from the mail systems?

Oliver Schmid
Kärcher Residential Solutions, Inc.

Dear Oliver,

When it comes to employee email, the organization is in the driver's seat. The organization's rights stem from the need to prevent the transmission of trade secrets or inappropriate (racist, sexist, pornographic) messages by employees via email.

According to NOLO, a legal information Web site whose goal is "to make America's legal system accessible to everyone," a smart employer will have "a policy explaining the rules for using email -- and reserving your right to monitor the messages sent and received on company computers. There are several very good reasons to adopt an email policy. First and foremost, you need to let your employees know that you may monitor their messages. Even if you have never read employee email and don't plan to make it your regular practice, you should protect your right to do so. If you don't, you might find yourself unable to investigate claims of harassment, discrimination, theft, and other misconduct -- or threatened with a lawsuit by an employee who claims that your investigation violated his or her privacy."



Every company the Email Diva has worked for -- and it's a long list -- had such a policy, explaining that email sent and received is company property. Now consider the task of the corporate network manager. It is not so different from that of providers of free online email, which is, in part, to manage the server volume by screening out spam. The free email provider, however, wants to satisfy end users so that they continue to use Hotmail, for example, over Yahoo Mail. Corporate network managers are far less interested in individual users; they want to please management, and management has already stated that it controls employee email use.

What does management want? To enhance productivity (among other things). So they have no problem blocking commercial email that is not work-related. Another challenge is that network managers may subscribe to out-of-date blacklists and harsh filtering software, which yields excessive false positives. (Go ahead, complain to the overburdened network guy that you're not receiving your shopping/entertainment email at work!)

It's another good reason to ask opt-ins for an alternative email address, and request permission to send to that address if the primary becomes undeliverable.

Good Luck!

The Email Diva

Send your questions or submit your email for critique to Melinda Krueger, the Email Diva, at All submissions may be published; please indicate if you would like your name or company name withheld.

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