Email policy

The first step in professionalizing your email communications is to publish a corporate email policy. This email policy accomplishes three objectives:

  1. Commercial objective: in teaching employees how to send effective emails and stating target answering times, you can professionalize your email replies and therefore gain competitive advantage.
  2. Productivity objective: by setting out rules for the personal use of email you can improve productivity and avoid misunderstandings.
  3. Legal objective: in clearly stating what is considered as inappropriate email content you can minimize the risk of law suits and minimize employer's liability by showing that the company warned employees of inappropriate email use.

Download sample policy

Before you create your email policy

Before you start creating an email policy, do some investigation into already existing company policies, such as guidelines on writing business letters, access to confidential information, personal use of the telephone systems and sexual or racial harassment at work. It is important that your email policy is compatible with your company's existing policies. You will also need to decide whether your company is going to allow personal use of the email system, and if so, to what extent.

The email policy should be drafted with the help of human resources, IT and board of directors in order to reflect all viewpoints in the organization. It is also advisable to have several employees look at the policy and provide their feedback. Make sure that your policy is not so restrictive that it will compromise your employees' morale and productivity.

What should be included in an email policy?

For the policy to be effective the document should use clear and simple wording and not be longer than 3-4 pages. You cannot expect employees to read a long complicated document, since you want them to remember what it says. List short bullet points, so that an employee can easily find rules in case they are unsure.

Commercial: guidelines on how to write effective emails

  • Corporate email style (formal/informal). This could include guidelines on salutation and ending of messages.
  • What kind of signatures should be used, i.e. should signatures include company name, job function, telephone & fax number, address, website and/or a corporate slogan.
  • Basic rules on how to write email messages. See email etiquette rules.
  • Expected time in which emails should be answered. For example, you could set a general rule that each email should be answered within at least 8 working hours, but 50% of emails should be answered within 4 hours.
  • How to determine which emails should receive priority.
  • When to send cc: or bcc: messages and what to do when you receive them.
  • How and when to forward email messages and how you should handle forwarded messages.

Productivity: rules on the usage of the email system

  • Whether personal e-mails are accepted and if so, to what extent. For instance you could limit the amount of personal emails sent each day, or you could require personal emails to be saved in a separate folder. You could also limit or eliminate certain email attachments from being sent or received, and include rules on sending chain letters. Include examples and clear measures taken when these rules are breached.
  • Use of newsletters & news groups. For instance you can require a user to request permission to subscribe to a newsletter or news group.
  • Warn users that they should not engage in non-business activities that unnecessarily tie up network traffic.

Legal: prohibit inappropriate email content and warn of risks

  • Include a list of 'email risks' to make users aware of the potential harmful effects of their actions. Advise users that sending an email is like sending a postcard: if you don't want it posted on the bulletin board, then don't send it. (For more information about the legal risks of email, visit this website all about email disclaimers)
  • The policy should expressly state that the email system is not to be used for the creation or distribution of any offensive, or disruptive messages, including messages containing offensive comments about race, gender, age, sexual orientation, pornography, religious or political beliefs, national origin or disability. State that employees who receive any emails with this content should report the matter to their supervisor immediately. Furthermore, mention that employees should not use email to discuss competitors, potential acquisitions or mergers or to give their opinion about another firm. Unlawful messages, such as copyright infringing emails should also be prohibited. Include examples and clear measures taken when these rules are breached.
  • If you are going to monitor the content of your employees' emails, you must mention this in your email policy (In most countries/states you are allowed to monitor your employees' emails if your employees are made aware of this). Warn that employees should have no expectation of privacy in anything they create, store, send or receive on the company's computer system and that any of their messages may be viewed without prior notice.

Finally, include a point of contact for questions arising from the email policy.

Publishing the email policy

When you have formulated an email policy, you should make sure that all employees are aware of the policy. You can do this by handing out printed copies, publishing it on your intranet and including it in staff handbooks. Also, when a new employee starts at your company, this employee should be given a copy of the document as standard.

It is a good idea to include the most important points of the email policy in the employment contract, so that employees must sign that they have read, understand and acknowledge receipt of the policy. Cover the most important issues in the employment contract, such as the personal use of email, possible email monitoring, and the prohibition of defamatory, sexual and racist remarks in emails. Also expressly state that breach of these rules can lead to termination of employment.

Furthermore, you could organize email trainings to explain the email risks to users and why the email policy is so important. If users understand the potential threats, most of them will understand why the rules need to be set up and will have less difficulty in applying them. A training will also help you obtain feedback to ensure that the policy is feasible and can actually be put into practice.

Updating the email policy

Since developments in email and the Internet are changing rapidly, it is important to review the email policy at least once every quarter. Keep an eye on new developments in email and Internet law so that you are aware of any new regulations and opportunities. When you release new updates, it is preferable to have each user sign as acknowledgment of their receipt of the policy.

Enforcing the email policy

Finally, when you have created your email policy, you must monitor your emails to ensure that your users keep to the rules. Email monitoring tools can help you accomplish this. For more information on the legaility of email monitoring, read this article by Red Earth Software.