Platform Overview

Is It Legal to Delete Work Emails?

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We live in an age where less talk means more typing. Yet, have you noticed that your inbox is starting to clog up? Have you noticed that you still have to scroll down even after using the ‘Ctrl F’ function? If your answer is a ‘yes’, then you may already have started deleting some of those unnecessary emails. However, if those are work emails, you must take precaution and identify whether it is legal to delete those emails. 

Table of Contents

What is the nature of work emails?

An employee’s email account is the employer’s property. Ownership of the employee’s email account means that the employer is permitted to access it. Many, if not all, businesses have policies, procedures or codes of conduct to regulate the use of work emails such as an IT policy. For instance, an employee deletes their work emails, but the employer’s IT policy states that an employee cannot delete any email sent through their work account. Here, there has been a breach of workplace policy. Yet, deleting an email is not illegal. Instead, it will provide a ground for the employer to dismiss or terminate that employee. 

Furthermore, cases before the Fair Work Commission has seen copyright claims weaved into issues concerning the use of work emails. So far, the issues have only been about sending work emails or work files to a personal account, future employers and others non-employees. We are yet to see whether a copyright argument will arise in regards to deleting work emails. It is possible under the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) that deleting an email is an example of altering a copyright-protected work.

It is important to note that this is mainly for the private sector. State legislation regulates the public sector. These include the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1988 (NSW) and the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002 (NSW). 

How to regulate the use of work emails

We mentioned earlier that an IT Policy is the best way to address issues surrounding work emails. An IT Policy is a workplace manual. It establishes rules and standards that an employee must adhere to while using the employer’s IT system at work. You can create your own IT Policy for free.

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How to introduce an IT Policy

The Fair Work Ombudsman suggests three key steps when introducing an IT policy.

Step 1: Consultation

An employer should consult their employees about the policy when developing it. During this process, the employer will understand what and how the employees are using their work emails and web browsers.

Step 2: Communication

After developing the policy, the employer must communicate it to the employees. The employer should outline both the employer and employees’ responsibilities and obligations regarding the use of work emails. Sharing this can be as easy as referring to the IT policy in the employment contract and intranet. The Fair Work Ombudsman states that an effective policy:

  • clearly explains the appropriate uses of work emails;
  • outlines what and when personal use of work emails is proper;
  • articulates prohibited uses of work emails;
  • identifies the relevant legislations and jurisdiction;
  • states what information is recorded and who will have access to those records; and
  • consequences for misusing work emails. 

Step 3: Review

It is crucial to review an IT policy regularly. By doing this, the policy will remain relevant and up-to-date despite new developments in technology, information technology and the internet. After amending the policy, the employer should redistribute the updated version to all employees so that everyone is aware of the changes. 

Need further assistance?

Anyone can delete emails by simply clicking their mouse. However, an employee must check if there is an IT policy stating whether they are allowed to do this. Otherwise, the employee may effectively lose their job for breaching workplace policy. If you are an employee, we suggest you re-read your employment contract, and your employer’s IT policies before deleting your work emails. If you are an employer that has an IT Policy but is unsure if the provisions address this issue, we recommend consulting our lawyers.

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