Sunday, May 15, 2016
When old company emails still haunt your inbox
Five years after a reader, L.S. left her previous job, she is still receiving emails addressed to her old company's email address.
L.S. had always forwarded her old work email to her private Gmail address. It was simpler to manage all of her email from one account, she figured. She can no longer log on to her old company's server to turn off the forwarding, but she figures that her old company would have shut her email down after she left if it had wanted to.
"I don't receive any inner-office emails or anything that appears to be confidential," she writes. "But I have noticed that when someone occasionally emails me at my old company's email address, I still receive it. I also continue to get junk email addressed to that old address."
She also receives a weekly report from the old company of email that has been quarantined as spam, all of which is more junk email that didn't make it through to her.
When L.S. responds to those who write her at the old email address she reminds them that she has a new email address. She simply deletes the junk email that comes through.
L.S. wants to know if she was wrong to forward her work email to her personal email address and whether she has an ethical obligation to let her old company know that she's still receiving email sent to her old address.
If L.S.'s former employer had a policy forbidding the forwarding of work email to a personal email address, she was wrong to do so. But if the company condoned the practice and employees regularly forwarded their email to personal email addresses, she's in the clear.
If L.S. is only receiving email that is addressed directly to her old email address, it might not present a problem, unless that email is work related. Because there's a chance that she might be receiving email intended for her as an employee of her former company, the right thing would be to inform a representative from her former company to let them know that she still receives emails sent to her former address. The responsibility then falls on them to decide when to disable her former email address.
The right thing for the company to have done would have been either to let L.S. know that she would continue to receive email at her old address (although it seems odd that most companies would see this as a good practice), or to let her know that her email would be closed out at a certain point after she stopped working for the company.
The responsibility for figuring this out should not have fallen on L.S.'s shoulders. But now that it has, she'd be wise to let the former company know about the situation and give it the opportunity to set things right. A side benefit for L.S. is that she might receive far less junk email in her inbox than she has over the past five years.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues.
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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