How to create an email policy (guidelines)

by Ryan Plank
email policy

Looking to create an email policy for your business?

Email policies are an essential part of setting ground rules for how your employees use their email accounts. 

Not only can an email policy help to offer some protection for your business from potential legal issues, but it also helps create clarity for your employees by setting formal expectations and guidelines on how to use email with the company’s computing facilities.

When considering an email policy, it’s important to remember that laws surrounding employee email policies vary by location and can change over time. For this reason, we advise that you seek professional legal counsel before moving forward with your email policy.

In this article, we’ll cover what an email policy is, why you should have one, and what you should consider including in your email policy. 

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What is an email policy?

An email policy is a formal document that provides employees with specific policy guidelines regarding office emails. 

It can cover several aspects like:  

  • Who the policy is for
  • Who has access to office email
  • What is classified as acceptable use and inappropriate communication in emails
  • Who has ownership over company emails
  • And much more

An email policy gives an official company guideline as to how a user should handle their official email accounts. Additionally, it can also detail guidelines over personal use of emails when operating with office email accounts. Many policies will even state the consequences of violating the policy. 

However, disciplinary actions don’t just apply to email policies – they’re important in the general running of your business, especially if you run a remote team. 

So, if you’re looking to set up a strong remote work policy for your business, take a look at our guide here.

Since there are specific laws and regulations surrounding company email policies that vary across regions and change over time, we recommend that you consult professional legal counsel before implementing one.

Why do you need an email policy?

Implementing a clear email policy can:

  • Help ensure that workplace and business communication remains as professional and productive as possible 
  • Guard your business against potential legal liabilities and reputation damage
  • Reduce the risk of breaches of email security
  • Help employees better understand the importance of following company email guidelines

Remember, electronic mail policies can differ based on the communication needs of each business. You should only draft your email policy after considering your own unique business needs and how you need your team to act, as well as your local legal framework around email policies. 

email misuse and abuse

What should you address in your company email policy?

Now that we’ve covered the importance of an email policy for your business, here’s what a company email policy might aim to include:

1. Introduction to the email policy

The introduction explains the purpose of the policy to the reader. It should describe the appropriate use of business emails and further clarify the company’s need for a strong email policy. 

This is the first impression the policy gives out to the reader regarding the email policy. The goal should be to introduce the policy in a positive light. A good policy will avoid intimidating employees, but also clearly present the policy as important. 

2. Who does the email policy apply to? (scope of the policy)

In this section, you can explain which individuals are subjected to the rules, guidelines, and disciplinary procedures of your policy. 

In most cases, an email policy will apply to all employees, independent contractors, and any other partners who are provided a corporate electronic mail address by the business.

3. What should emails be used for? (email usage guidelines)

In the usage guideline section, you can set out how a user should use the business mailbox. You can stress the importance of adhering to email etiquette and corporate standards like logos, copyrights, and email signatures. 

It’s often a good idea to warn staff about inappropriate use of language and explain what they should do if they receive an inappropriate email. 

Also, this section can advise employees on how to use the CC and BCC features to manage group emails effectively.

Another thing to consider is advising each user to avoid sharing sensitive information like usernames and passwords or other client-related or personal information over email.

4. Who owns company emails? (email ownership and privacy)

The email message ownership section should explain the ownership of work email messages and email systems. In most cases, the business owns these, but make sure to check with your legal counsel to be certain of the local laws in your region. t

If the law allows and it’s something you plan on doing, you should state that the company can access an employee’s work emails if needed. For example, if the company believes that an employee’s email service has been compromised, they may reserve the right to restrict access immediately while they resolve the issue.

5. What is not allowed? (email misuse and abuse)

The purpose of this section is to inform the employee of what behaviors are not allowed when using their work email. It will usually explain that work emails should only be used for company-approved activities.

This includes avoiding sharing inappropriate content or even sending out unsolicited, company-wide emails through the office email service. It may be useful to explicitly state which types of emails are allowed to be sent out to a recipient, and which aren’t allowed in your policy. 

This can give you additional protection from liability in the case of any illegal concerns. As an example, you might state that your email content shouldn’t:

  • Contain harassing messages
  • Be offensive in nature
  • Be unsolicited chain letters (spam) sent to coworkers or third parties
  • Include discriminative language or content 

It can also be beneficial to encourage each email user to report any inappropriate emails they receive before moving them to the junk mail folder. This can help you investigate such incoming emails and work to stop them.

6. Which emails should be retained? (email retention and backup)

It’s also advisable to decide on a records management plan to deal with all incoming mail. This way, you can choose what types of email communications your staff should retain in their computer system, and which emails they can delete. 

Your policy should clearly explain which emails are “record” and which are “no-record.” You also might want to set storage limits for email message backups to ensure that your systems don’t get overloaded.

Remember, when you backup emails in bulk, and the system overloads, you may not be able to retrieve individual emails from each account. That’s why it’s important to plan your backing up and retrieval procedure well ahead of time.

7. How can you remain secure on email? (email security)

The email security and data protection sections are some of the most important topics that should be covered in your policy. If email security isn’t properly managed, your team members risk falling prey to phishing attacks. 

Phishing attacks come in the form of emails that look like they originate from a legitimate source, but are actually scams designed to steal private information. Even your business’ sites and tools can be affected by hackers as a result of phishing. 

We recommend advising your employees to change their passwords often and warning them about the risks of sending out personal details via email. You should explicitly tell them to inform management if they suspect an email includes malware or a phishing attack.

8. Can you use the office email address for personal reasons? 

Though business email is typically meant for official purposes only, many companies still allow employees to use their work email accounts for limited personal message use. 

One reason for this is that company staff don’t always know each other’s personal email addresses, so they find it easier to use their company emails to communicate personal messages.

So, it can help to decide and explain what kind of personal emails are allowed on your company email accounts. You can choose to allow non-recurring or non-regular emails from employees to their friends from work. 

9. When should you limit using email? (work-life balance)

This section is not essential for every email policy, but it’s always good to let your staff understand that you care about their well-being. In addition, some countries are beginning to implement laws that make emailing employees outside of work hours illegal.

Improvements in technology have blurred the line between work and personal life. It’s now common to find staff working till late or sending out emails well outside of work hours from their mobile device. However, this can be unhealthy for your employees – and it can negatively affect productivity in the long run. 

It might be a good idea to explain in your email policy that employees are encouraged to limit sending emails during after-work hours or while on vacations. This can reduce the risk of employee burnout and help them to enjoy their personal lives more while becoming more productive. 

If you want to learn more about work-life balance and help employees avoid burnout, click here.

10. What happens when you don’t follow the email policy? (consequences of noncompliance)

To reduce the risk of policy violations, a good email policy should include an explanation of the specific repercussions for violating the policy. 

Disciplinary actions can vary widely and will depend on both the goals and culture of the company, as well as the local laws surrounding work and email policies. An example could be something like a day’s suspension with pay, or something more serious like a pay cut. Explaining the repercussions for violating the policy will give transparency and can even help discourage violations. 

Also, remember to include a mention of who your employees can contact for any clarifications regarding the policy. This can help prevent accidental violations of the email policy. 

Lastly, try to make it as easy as possible for all of your employees to be aware of what’s mentioned in the policy. Make it available on a general electronic communication channel, or if you run a brick-and-mortar office, keep it pinned on a noticeboard. This way, employees will be much more likely to adhere to your business’ email policy. 

Wrapping up

Having an email policy at the office might just save you from a ton of headaches when dealing with employee emails. 

It may seem complicated at first, but drafting an email policy with the help of your legal counsel iw worth the effort. It can even help to follow the tips we’ve mentioned here to understand why an email policy is important, and how to create an effective one. 

Once you create an email policy that works for you and our business, you’ll have a comprehensive policy that helps your employees keep their work email accounts ordered and secured.

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