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Who owns your emails?

Published 06 Feb 2018

A recent case tested the ability for a sacked employee to request all their email correspondence from their former employer.

The issue was brought before the Privacy Commissioner as the employee claimed the emails were personal to him and therefore he had a right to them.

The man who was a university academic was dismissed for serious misconduct and lost access to his email account on the day of his termination. Over a 12 month period of his employment which he requested it was estimated his mailbox contained around 12,000 emails, to which he argued he was entitled access to.

The university offered to provide certain specific emails upon request but not for the entire period as they deemed it an unreasonable request which would require them to review and assess every email to filter any commercially sensitive items.

The Privacy Commissioner agreement and declined the employee's claim.

If you get a request from a staff member (current or ex) you are required to consider it under 'Good Faith' obligations. However you also have to protect your business in terms of company intellectual property, commercially sensitive or confidential information and the privacy of other party information. In this instance it was denied since it was considered unreasonable and the ex employee was unwilling to negotiate.

Emails generated by employees during the course of their employment using the employer's system are property of the Employer. However, this doesn't mean the employee doesn't have access rights to them.