What is an Email Disclaimer?

An email disclaimer is defined as a notice or warning which is added to an outgoing email and forms a distinct section which is separate from the main message. The reasons for adding such a disclaimer includes confidentiality, copyright, contract formation, employee liability, defamation, discrimination, harassment, privilege, and viruses. Since the disclaimer is usually attached at the end, it usually will not be noticed until everything else is an email is completely read. Disclaimers are otherwise known as email disclosures, footers, sign-offs, fine print, small print, mouseprint, or confidentiality notices. Put simply, an email disclaimer is a section of text, usually beneath an email signature, that is added to an outgoing email to limit liability. The content will often include the company name, registered office address and company registration details which are a legal requirement for corporate email in many countries.

Why do I need an Email Disclaimer?

Your average personal email user will typically not require a disclaimer included in their email signature. However, the uses of disclaimers in the work place are much more common. Some company emails could contain professional advice or representations pertaining to business, or related business transactions. If the advice or representations prove to be false, the recipient could sue the sender for misrepresentation. This is one reason why a company could implement email disclaimers within their corporate email signature. Although an email disclaimer is a step in the right direction in protecting yourself, and your company, it is by no means a clear-cut method of liability protection when it comes to the content included in your email.

How can an Email Disclaimer protect me?

There is no legal authority on the effectiveness of the use of a disclaimer in email messages. In the USA, several courts have ruled that email disclaimers may have a legal effect when intentionally included in an email, generally before the text of the email or in the body of the email. However, no court appears to have ruled on the effectiveness of email disclaimers appearing below the signature line in every email. If the email disclaimer is put together properly and executed correctly, it could protect you from confidentiality breaches, virus transmission liability, unintentional contracts, negligent misstatements and employer's liability.

Reasons why an Email Disclaimer would be added to your email signature:

There are several reasons why you might decide to add disclaimers to your email signature. These reasons can all be grouped into two categories: Legal and Marketing.

Legal Reasons

If you were to be so unlucky to be sued for the contents of an e-mail, it is not certain whether an email disclaimer will protect you from liability in a court of law. However, it will certainly help your case and in some situations might exempt you from liability. More importantly, it may well prevent the actual occurrence of lawsuits against your company since the mere presence of the statement might deter most persons from seeking legal compensation from your company. Therefore the use of disclaimers is always recommended. There are 6 legal threats that disclaimers can help protect against:

  • Breach of confidentiality: By including a disclaimer that warns that the content of the e-mail is confidential, you can protect your company against the exposure of confidential information. If the receiver breaches this confidentiality, they could be liable.
  • Accidental breach of confidentiality: If an employee were to receive a confidential mail from someone and by accident forward it to the wrong person, the employee, and therefore the company, could be liable. This can easily happen. For instance a wrongly addressed e-mail can be forwarded to a postmaster, who might not be authorized to read the mail. Furthermore, e-mail can easily be intercepted. If you include a statement at the end of your mail that the message is only intended for the addressee, and that if anyone receives the e-mail by mistake they are bound to confidentiality, this could protect you.
  • Transmission of viruses: If an employee sends or forwards an e-mail that contains a virus, your company can be sued for this. Apart from implementing a good virus checker that blocks viruses entering and leaving the company via e-mail, you can also warn in your disclaimer that the e-mail can possibly contain viruses and that the receiver is responsible for checking and deleting viruses.
  • Entering into contracts: Written communication, including e-mail, can be used to form binding legal contracts if the individuals have actual or apparent authority to do so. If you do not wish certain employees to be able to form binding contracts by email, you could include a statement that any form of contract needs to be confirmed by the person's manager.
  • Negligent misstatement: By law, a person is obliged to take care when giving advice that a third party relies on. If an employee were to give professional advice in an e-mail, the company will be liable for the effect of the advice that the recipient or even third party, reasonably relies upon. A suitable disclaimer could protect your company from this kind of liability.
  • Employer's liability: Although a company is ultimately responsible for the actions of its employees, including the content of any e-mails they send, a disclaimer can decrease liability; if a company can show that it has correctly instructed its employees not to send libelous, inappropriate or defamatory statements this could help in disclaiming responsibility if an employee breaches these rules.

Marketing Reasons

  • Add marketing information: Disclaimers can be used to add a company address, URL and/or slogan if wished. In some countries companies are required to state the company's particulars on any written communication. Since e-mail is also written, it is probably best to include this in emails as well.
  • Convey professional image: By adding disclaimers to emails your company conveys a professional, trustworthy image. Apart from deterring any possible adversaries from suing, it will convey awareness and professionalism to your customers.

What are my options?

If you need or want a disclaimer added to your email signature, whether its for legal purposes or marketing purposes, you have some options available. The number one recommended option is to have a professional company that specializes in Email Signatures and Email Disclaimers help you out. Sigbop (www.sigbop.com) can create you a custom email signature that will include a professional compliant email disclaimer tailored to meet your needs. Sigbop takes responsibility for adding email disclaimers away from all users and sets up an email signature with a disclaimer on a separate system. If you are looking for a custom email signature that is 100% compliant, includes a disclaimer, and is properly branded, then this the solution that you have been searching for.

In the figure below, a sample email signature created by sigbop is shown that includes a disclaimer. This signature can integrate with Gmail, Outlook, Outlook 365, and Microsoft Exchange. With central management, you can ensure that all corporate emails consistently have a professional email signature with the necessary compliant legal disclaimer.

disclaimer added to sigbop signature

Most email clients have a feature for automatic email signatures to populate into each email message (ie. Gmail, Outlook). If you think you can add a disclaimer yourself, then your next-best plan of action would be to create the disclaimer within your chosen email client. In the figure below is an example of how to set up an email signature disclaimer through Gmail. Unfortunately, you are limited to the amount of customization you can do within Gmail, but the option of adding a disclaimer on your own is possible.

adding a disclaimer to gmail

If you decide that an email disclaimer is what you need for your personal or corporate email accounts, then consider the following. Keep it clean and concise. It is not a contest to have the longest email disclaimer. The Register conducted a survey and found that UBS Warburg had the longest email disclaimer at a staggering 1081 words! Nobody, I repeat NOBODY, is going to read your disclaimer if it is too long. The object is to limit the liability through a disclaimer. Stick to the facts. Be straightforward. If you need help creating a disclaimer, contact a professional email signature company.

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