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I recently resigned from my job where I worked for more than 5 years (we parted on good conditions).

What should I do with my professional e-mails (both sent and received)? There are some e-mails that are not for everyone to see (e.g. my paycheck stubs, confidential information regarding projects I worked on etc.).

We're a small company and we don't have any rules / instructions on what to do in this situation.

Can I create a backup (for my self) and delete all the e-mails. What's the acceptable/responsible thing to do in this situation?

  • Are you talking about emails that have been sent to a personal account? Or are you trying to figure out what to do with emails in your corporate account between the time that you resign and your last day? – Justin Cave Oct 17 '14 at 15:21
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    Extract private information (like pay check stubs) that are nobody else's business and delete them. Ask your manager if you should keep these emails on your works computer. Keeping a backup with company data wouldn't be right, unless the company wants you to do this so if there are problems they can ask you for help. – gnasher729 Oct 17 '14 at 15:22
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    Why haven't you asked your former boss? – HopelessN00b Oct 17 '14 at 22:17
  • Keep in mind that your company might store backups of all emails sent to/from employee accounts, so even if you delete them, they wont be completely gone – David Grinberg Oct 17 '14 at 23:33
  • You've left the company already? and want to destroy their data? That does not sound good. – user10399 Sep 5 at 10:55
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What's the acceptable/responsible thing to do in this situation?

The typical thing to do is:

  • Delete your personal mail
  • Do not back up and take mail with you
  • Talk with whoever handles your corporate email and ask them if you can expect that all your email will be purged from the system or not.

Mail from/to a company's email system is not yours - it belongs to the company (at least in the US).

Also remember that even when you delete mail, it likely still exists on the corporate servers and backups. Unless someone specifically purges it, these emails will remain accessible to folks who know how to do it.

This is what typically happens in the US, but the privacy rules surrounding emails vary widely by locale.

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    This seems very reasonable. I will filter out emails with personal information and leave the rest as it is. It's up to them to decide what to do with the rest. – almost my name Oct 18 '14 at 7:02
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    "Do not back up and take mail with you". For company mail, yes. Backing up personal mail should not be a problem, and might be necessary. However, you should ask for permission first anyway, just to avoid any bad impression. – sleske Dec 16 '14 at 8:39
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There probably is no general rule, as this depends on circumstances: any official rules you may have (none in your case), the nature of your work, the role of mail in your workflow etc.

There are some rules that apply in most cases:

  • Any information required to continue your work should be available for your employer (old and new plans, agreements with customers, reports about problems...). This information is part of the results you were paid to produce, and belongs to your employer.
  • Clearly private mails (note from your partner, paycheck information) is yours, and you can and should delete them.

The trick is that the difference between the two is not always clear-cut. That's why most bigger companies have policies about the use of company email. One common policy is (where legally possible) "All mail to the company email addresses must be about work and belongs to the company" - meaning you cannot expect privacy on your company mail account.

If there is no clear policy for you, you'll have to discuss this with your HR department and / or your boss.

Simply deleting all emails without permission is quite likely to land you in hot water.

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In all scenarios it's worth taking a moment to ask your employer what to do with these emails, depending on your location and market the company may have a legal obligation to retain your email for an extended period of time. (otherwise they could get in trouble, and you could catch the blame)

If your work email is on a personal account

If your company has it's own email you should forward any work relevant emails to your work email address. Then trash all emails that are no longer relevant. If there are any questions on what should and shouldn't be forward, it's better to send stuff they don't need than miss what they do. (again you can ask them)

Once the important stuff is all forward you can do house keeping as you see fit.

If this is a work email address (not third party)

If your company handles your email you can take the time to clean out personal stuff, but honestly I wouldn't make a huge effort of it. Likely immediately after you announced your resignation IT made a full back up of your email "just in case", perhaps as a small operation they might not have, but most companies tend to have these sort of policies, especially in areas where they have a legal obligation to retain email for a period of time.

DO NOT COPY EMAILS!!! it's okay to copy a few personal emails, but anything work related is company property that they've paid you for. While being on good terms it's unlikely to be an issue, but if things go sour it can be considered stealing company secrets. (or similar) It's best just to leave on good terms and leave anything you did behind you unless they explicitly give you permission to take something.

Not a big deal

Honestly as long as you didn't email your Social Security Number, Credit card numbers, or other such dangerous information I really wouldn't put much effort into this. If you DID send such information delete it, and don't send that kind of stuff again. Email is not a secure form of communication by default think of it like a post card, anyone watching as it goes by can see it.

  • Technical note: Forwarding mails is not necessarily a good idea, because it loses mail headers, and messes up subject lines. It's probably better so save/export the mails using your mail software and transfer the export file. Ask your IT department how they'd like to receive the mails (of course, they may not care either way). – sleske Dec 16 '14 at 8:42
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Just ask people in your company what they want to do. There should be consideration if they're going to email you pay stubs and then give access to your folder to someone else (admins excluded). Sometimes they'll keep your address open or forward it to another account to handle any customer responses until they get them accustomed to another employee. You'll be doing the person taking over a favor by cleaning it up, so they don't have to search through thousands of emails unrelated to the company.

There's probably an archival system in place in many industries so permanent deletion is not an option. It doesn't mater if you delete things on the first day of your job or last.

On a side note. This is a great opportunity to suggest to your company to start using other tools than email. Project history, customer communications, should be put into other CRS, document shared sites, project management apps, wiki, etc. Everyone getting copied on everything and then having individual folder/filing system (folder for each client?)is a red flag that something else is needed.

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If the works and the projects done by you need some responsibilities that later on might need to contact you using your contact information including email addresses, "NO, YOU CAN'T DO THAT." However, if your responsibilities are over and you have not signed any paper regarding your continuous availability to your previous responsibilities , "YES, YOU CAN DELETE ALL."

  • I don't see how this answers the question. The OP is asking about the e-mails he received and sent, not the account itself. – espindolaa Sep 4 at 17:23
  • Not much difference. If the emails contain sensitive data that might be used later for some verification, no, he must not delete any email. He can only archive and download them. – Amir Ghorbani Sep 5 at 4:42

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