E-Mail Management during Absences and on Leaving the Company

For the smooth accomplishment of management tasks, it is essential that incoming and outgoing business correspondence can be systematically recorded and understood. As there is often no clear external distinction between private and business e-mail, the management of employees' electronic post while they are absent from the workplace can cause data protection problems. If an address that relates to the employee's function rather than to his name is used for business correspondence, this problem can be avoided.

In the field of e-mail there are - just as with conventional business postal correspondence - two forms of address: An address with the name of a person (e.g. hans.meier@companyname.ch or hans.meier@sales.companyname.ch) or the a function-related address (e.g. info@companyname.ch, sales@companyname.ch, or salesmanager@companyname.ch). Nowadays there is widespread use of addresses using personal names.

Where a person's name is used in the address, there is a problem in managing an employees' mail while they are absent from the workplace or when they leave the company, in that it is difficult to distinguish between private and business e-mails. If mails are not marked to indicate that they are private or business correspondence, and the private nature of an e-mail cannot be deduced or assumed from the address, the employer may assume - in the same way as with traditional post - that the e-mail is related to the business. If there are justifiable doubts as to the nature of an e-mail, the employer must clarify these with the employee. Opening e-mails where there is uncertainty over their nature is not permitted, irrespective of whether private e-mails are allowed within a company or not.

In the case of absences for which advance notice can be given (e.g. vacation, leave, military service), there are three methods of managing e-mail:

  • An answer is defined in the e-mail program, so that when a mail arrives, a message is sent automatically to the sender advising him that the recipient is absent and notifying them of whom they should contact if the matter is urgent.
  • The e-mail program is set up in such a way that every incoming mail is passed on to a colleague who has agreed in advance to deputise. This solution carries the risk that private e-mails will also find their way to the this colleague.
  • A deputy will be appointed with restricted rights to open and if necessary deal with incoming business mails. Mails that are marked private cannot be opened by the deputy, with the result that the absent employee's privacy remains protected.

For the case of unforeseeable absences (e.g. illness, accident), a deputy should be appointed in advance.

An address that does not contain a personal name is suitable for non-personal business correspondence, as it circumvents the above-mentioned difficulties with an address containing a name. The name address should be used for purely personal business related correspondence (e.g. personal matters or personal messages).

Before leaving a place of employment, employees must arrange for pending business such as e-mails to be passed on to someone else within the company. Employees have to confirm the handover of all business-related documents to the company. They may save their private e-mails and other private documents in private data carriers and delete these from the company servers.

When an employee leaves, his e-mail accounts should be closed at the latest on his last working day (along with all other EDP accounts), and the contents of mailboxes (along with all other data carriers) should be deleted. The employer should provide a written undertaking that this will be done. Persons who send e-mails to the closed e-mail address must be automatically informed that the address is no longer valid.

[July 2003]