In deciding what to include in your standard email footers, there are two kinds of legal issue: what must be included; and what inclusions are desirable. There are various distinct statutory requirements. The main kinds of potentially desirable inclusions are email disclaimers and confidentiality notices.
Sections 349 to 351 of the Companies Act 1985 (as amended) require that the following information be included in business emails sent by a company:
- the name of the company;
- the registered office of the company;
- the place of incorporation of the company; and
- the registration number of the company.
In addition, “investment companies” must state in their emails that they are investment companies; and limited companies that are exempt from the obligation to use the word “limited” as part of their name must state that they are limited companies. The easiest way to ensure that this information is included in emails is, of course, to have it automatically inserted through a standard footer.
Please note that special rules apply (or may apply) which are beyond the scope of this note: where an email is sent for marketing purposes (whether solicited or unsolicited); in relation to emails sent by regulated industries and professions (e.g. the financial services industry or legal profession); and where you monitor the emails of employees and other personnel.
Many businesses include disclaimers of liability in their email footers. These may seek to exclude or limit the sender's liability in relation (amongst other things) to:
- claims by third parties concerning the email;
- malicious software transmitted with the email;
- “accidental” contracting by junior staff;
- negligent statements made in the email; and/or
- other actionable email content.
The law relating to email disclaimers is not as clear as it might be. However, what is clear is that very broad exclusions of liability will not usually protect the email sender in the event of a court case. The kind of disclaimer appropriate to a particular business will depend upon the nature of that business (and the nature of the emails sent by that business). For this reason, you should seek professional assistance to draft an email disclaimer.
A second category of potentially desirable inclusion is a confidentiality statement.
A confidentiality notice will specify that the information contained in the email is (or may be) confidential, and may specify that the recipient of the email should not without the sender's permission disclose any confidential information received. Such notices serve to reinforce the obligations of individuals and companies under the general law of confidence. Arguably, it is better to include confidentiality notices at the top of an email, rather than in the footer – but for obvious reasons few businesses do this as a matter of course.
In any event, the law relating to email confidentiality notices is as uncertain as that relating to email disclaimers, and they should not be relied upon in relation to the disclosure of valuable confidential information (which should be covered by a confidentiality agreement or non-disclosure agreement of some kind).