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Many answers to questions here involve creating a paper trail when things go south. The most convenient method is definitely emails. In order to protect yourself, you may need evidence of someone's wrongdoings, however this may not help when all that correspondence is stored on work servers if you are locked out of the system. Therefore I'm wondering what the best practice is to handle and store work emails of which some could become relevant if the work relationship deteriorates somewhere in the future. There is a similar question that asks about copying all work email:

Archiving work email on personal devices

and the conclusion seems to be that it could be an illegal practice depending on local laws. Therefore I would like to hear about other actions one can take to establish records and keep them available for when you might need them.

Also, is all correspondence potentially important? Could you safely delete some emails that seem insignificant, like asking about lunch or a room reservation, or should everything be kept at all times?

  • Storing emails that you don't own or control is very difficult. As for the email trail, I would keep the entire conversation just so there are no gaps. – Twyxz Jun 7 at 9:16
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    I must admit that I am unsure whether there is a legal way to store emails anywhere outside of your working environment, if your local law explicitly forbids storing work-related information/files outside of your working environment. – Niko1978 Jun 7 at 9:25
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    You've stated you're in Europe, so whatever solution is offered will need to be considered alongside GDPR. – JohnHC Jun 7 at 9:51
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    Hmm, if the company requires you to use your personal smart phone or device for work purposes ie work email, then they have given permission for you to have that data on your device... – Solar Mike Jun 7 at 10:23
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    @SolarMike and that permission usually comes with a signed agreement stating that they have the ability to revoke your rights to access the information, or even remotely control the storage of the emails on your device (i.e. delete it without notice). On top of the usual agreement stating that emails (and other company information or systems) are company property and not for personal use. It's usually not that case that they're giving you unfettered permission to store or use the information in the emails however you wish, just permission to access them from a mobile. – dwizum Jun 7 at 13:02
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As indicated in the linked question corporate email belongs to the company. Retaining a personal copy of any emails can be interpreted as theft.

Your question here implies that you're wanting to proactively retain emails in case there's any future problems. Of course, you don't know there's going to be a problem until it happens, so you're probably going to want to keep everything for an indefinite period. Obviously, the legality of doing this is questionable, and you breaching your employment contract by stealing information is also questionable and can lead to a more damaging outcome for you than dealing with the issue at hand.

If you don't trust your employer to work professionally (or at least work out issues internally), then you need to question whether you want to continue working there.

  • On the other side, if a person is taking a copy of emails as evidence to present to a court of law then there may be justification for that specific purpose. – Underverse Jun 7 at 11:06
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    The question here refers to events that might (by conjecture) happen at some unknown point in the future. By inference, that's keeping a copy of all project-related emails. – user44108 Jun 7 at 13:03
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You started your question by stating,

Many answers to questions here involve creating a paper trail when things go south. The most convenient method is definitely emails.

I think there's some nuance here that's being glossed over - the context of things "going south" will clearly have a big impact on how or where or why you want to store a paper trail.

Many questions on this site deal with employment issues where the asker is acting in the company's best interest - for instance, creating a paper trail when documenting that a subordinate is causing issues or has poor performance. Clearly, using company email for this is fine - the company is not likely to try to subvert your documentation by deleting or altering your emails, or restricting your access to them.

Some other questions deal with issues where the asker is afraid of their employer or their boss, and they're potentially creating a paper trail as a way to defend themselves against their employer. While it's a good idea to create a paper trail in this situation as well, and email may be a good way to do this, it's probably not appropriate to use the company email as a resource - it may be more appropriate to use your personal email, or another tool you legally have control over, when documenting such situations.

Those situations all apply more or less to the case where you've decided there's an issue and you're going to actively start documenting the issue. On the other hand, your question seems to be coming from the case where you'd like to proactively store all (or some) emails, just in case there is an issue in the future. Consider that many companies have policies that prohibit storing or using company resources or information on personal devices - even those who allow you to access company email from your mobile phone usually have policies around use and management of those emails. Further, storing company emails on personal storage may be considered grossly negligent and/or downright illegal in some scenarios (i.e. if emails contain sensitive or personal information, or information that's covered by regulations). So, be sure you understand these considerations before attempting to offload company emails onto your own personal storage without authorization.

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You should consult a lawyer if you're concerned about substantive wrongdoing (fraud, negligence, harassment, etc.). They can help you decide what steps are best -- perhaps including collecting documentation of what you're observing, or simply documenting your observations yourself.

A lawyer can also advise you about any potential liability you may have if you don't intervene or alert an authority. Knowingly failing to report certain crimes can also be a crime.

I'm sorry that you're in an environment that is so concerning. I hope the issue is resolved soon or you're able to find a new organization to work with.

As an alternative, many companies have a designated ombudsman that can hear your concerns, keep them in confidence, and investigate anything that may be an issue.

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