Many companies will provide detailed information at the end of emails in relation to a variety of issues, most commonly this will be broken down into vital company information and company policies regarding confidentiality and in many cases disclaimers.
What information do I have to provide?
When deciding what information is to be provided at the bottom of your company emails you need to deal with two kinds of legal issue:
What must be included; and
What inclusions are desirable from a company perspective
Companies Act 1985
Sections 349 to 351 of the Companies Act 1985 require that the following information is included in all business emails sent by a company as well as company letterhead’s and order forms:
The name of the company
The registered office of the company
The place of incorporation of the company
The registration number of the company
Furthermore if your company is an investment company this must be stated in the company emails. Limited companies that are exempt from the obligation to have the word “limited” as part of their name must state that they are limited companies in their business emails.
How do I ensure that this information is provided in my company emails?
The best way to ensure that this information is included in your company emails is to have a standard footer which is inserted at the end of every email sent from the company address. Not every single email sent will be relevant to your business and may not necessarily require this information to be provided. However, to ensure that it is included in all relevant business emails it is good practice to have it inserted at the end of every email sent from a company account including those replying to third parties or forwarding on from third parties.
Does this information also need to be on my website?
All of the above information must be included on the company website as well as in all communications sent by the company.
Is it enough to provide a link to the website at the bottom of the email?
It is not enough to simply provide a link at the bottom of the email to your website. If this information is not provided on all company business communications your company could be liable for a fine.
Who enforces this requirement?
It is the duty of Trading Standards to ensure that this requirement under the Companies Act is fulfilled.
Will I be liable to a fine if I do not comply?
If you do not comply with this requirement under the Companies Act you may be liable to a maximum fine of £1,000.
If you continually breach this requirement then you may be liable for an additional fine of up to £3000 per day.
What if my company is part of a group of companies?
In some cases two or more companies within the same group of companies, i.e. parent companies and subsidiary companies, share the same standard email footer. This approach often runs as risk as each email footer should make it clear which company it represents. If it is sent by a subsidiary company the company information of the parent company can be included but this should be alongside the company information of the subsidiary company.
This may require that different templates are used by your staff when sending emails on behalf of various companies under the umbrella of one parent company.
What information is desirable to include in my company emails?
Information which companies feel is desirable to be included in their email footers but which there is no legal basis for can be broken down into the following two types of information:
Often business include disclaimers in order to limit their liability in their company email footers. These disclaimers may seek to exclude or limit that business’ liability in relation to the following things:
Claims by third parties concerning the content of the email
Malicious software transmitted with the email
Negligent statements made in the email
Other actionable email content
When deciding what disclaimers to include in your company emails this will depend very heavily on the nature of your business with some forms of disclaimers deemed appropriate and others not. As there is very little legal guidance on this subject expert legal advice should be sought to decide which disclaimers are appropriate for your business.
There may be little legal guidance on this matter but what is clear is that very broad or over ambitions disclaimers will not stand up in court action.
Confidentiality notices specify that the information contained in the email is, or could possibly be, confidential. Often confidentiality notices will specify that the recipient of the email should not disclose any confidential information received without the sender’s permission.
There is no legal structure for the form of confidentiality notices and what they are required to specify but their purpose is to reinforce the obligations of both individuals and companies under the general law of confidence.
Should I include confidentiality notices at the end of an email in an email footer?
Often a confidentiality notice located at the bottom of the email may not be seen to have achieved its purpose as the text of the email may have already been read if the reader has made their way to the bottom of the email.
Some business therefore feel it appropriate to include the confidentiality notice at the top of the email stating that the contents of this email are confidential and if you have received it in error then please remove it from your system.
It is not good practice for the confidentiality notice to state that the email is intended for the addressee only because if someone has received an email their address will have been included in the list of recipients.
Not all companies have the technology to include a confidentiality notice at the top of an email so it will therefore be provided at the bottom in an email footer.
Is there any legal authority concerning email confidentiality notices?
There is no legal authority concerning email confidentiality notices meaning that it cannot be taken for granted that it can be relied upon in court. If a notice is added automatically to the end of all communications then there is a risk that the court may feel that the actual meaning of the warning will become less as people are so used to seeing these notices.
The actual value of the notice is in relation to a situation when the disclosure of an email becomes a subject of dispute. In this instance it may be possible to direct the court to the existence of the confidentiality notice and argue the point that the recipient should have known not to disclose the content of the message.