Email Deletion Basics for Every Business Owner

Businessman touching email icon

It seems that every other news story involves Hillary Clinton,[1]  emails, and the use of private servers, putting the topic of email deletion at center stage.  But what can a Chicago business owner learn from the Hillary Clinton email story?

There was a time when owning a business did not include words such as hard drives, flash drives, magnetic tapes and USB ports.  Now, every company has a fleet of computers, a server, and a complex back-up system.  Most businesses even have a least one IT expert on staff.  Computers have replaced typewriters, emails have replaced snail mail, and hard drives have all but replaced filing cabinets filled with documents.

When it comes to email communications, the use of cell phones and laptops has made them commonplace in and out of the business world.  It is almost expected that a business owner will send and receive emails over lunch, on-the-go, and over the course of the weekend.   For more than a decade, business owners have been warned regarding the pitfalls and dangers of electronic communications.  While those earliest concerns centered around the receipt of spam and the use of secure e-mail accounts[2] to preserve secret corporate information, the retention and deletion of e-mails was also discussed.

Retaining Business E-mails

Every business owner, from a small family run company to a multi-million-dollar enterprise, must address the issue of deleting email communications.  Regardless of how big or small your company is, there are three critical things to keep in mind:

  1. Emails Are Not Private: It does not matter if you are the owner of the company sending what you intend to be a private message to your sales team, or even two co-workers sending an inter-office memo, the use of electronic communication means that it can never be made entirely private. Internet Service Providers (ISP) often keep copies of emails and other documents on its own servers for backup and many types of electronic storage is farmed out to 3rd party companies. If the information is intended to be confidential and private, think twice before it is sent electronically.
  2. Email Deletions: Prior to the age of computers, confidential documents and letters were shredded when they were no longer necessary, with very little or no ability to paste them back together.  The information was effectively deleted.  But in this digital age, it is nearly impossible to delete every electronic footprint left by the creation and storage of emails.  When you delete an email, it moves to a “trash bin” allowing your computer operating system to reuse the file or folder.  But the contents of the file remain and can be recovered either by a member of your IT staff or a forensic expert.  Even if the “trash bin” is later cleared out, the data remains on a back-up or even stored off site based upon your company’s disaster recovery policy.   All of this means that if your company is ever involved in litigation, and is called upon to produce deleted emails, you may be required to produce them just like Hillary Clinton.  To prevent that from ever occurring, the time to review your company policy regarding email deletions with a business lawyer is not after a lawsuit is filed, but before any conflict exists that may lead to future litigation.
  3. Accidental Deletions: The larger you grow your business, the greater your risk for accidental email deletions.  Secretaries, office managers, and sales personnel all have access to company emails and each runs the risk of accidentally deleting the email you needed to close the next deal or to communicate with an important customer.  Be sure to review your email archive policy with an IT expert as well as your Chicago business lawyer to make certain that both you and your company are protected.

Contact an Experienced Chicago Business Lawyer

The rules concerning when there is a duty to preserve electronic communications and what steps your company must take to preserve emails once a lawsuit is filed are complex and can be difficult to apply to your specific case.  The experienced team of Chicago business lawyers at Bellas & Wachowski – Attorneys at Law are familiar with Illinois laws regarding electronically stored information and can review your electronic data retention policy before there is a concern that your company will be involved in a lawsuit.  Call our Chicago employment lawyers today for a consultation at 847.823.9032 or use our online contact form.


[1]  Hillary Clinton e-mails

[2] Dangers of electronic communications

[3] Electronically stored information