Ask LH: Can My Former Employer Maintain An Email Account In My Name?

Ask LH: Can My Former Employer Maintain An Email Account In My Name?

Hi Lifehacker, I recently quit my job, and found out that they’re not shutting down my work email — only my access to it. Is this legal? I worry they could send emails claiming to be me. Thanks, Mistake Identity

Dear MI,

It’s extremely unlikely that anyone is using your email to impersonate you. Typically, what happens is that the email address is redirected to another staff member or a catch-all account — this ensures that any work-related messages don’t go missing. The account will still receive incoming emails but will otherwise be inactive. In practice, the inbox is usually completely ignored.

So is this legal? While we don’t profess to be lawyers, we suspect that an employee’s email address and its contents technically belong to the company (this is one reason why you shouldn’t send personal emails from your work account.) Unless you find proof that they are sending emails in your name, you can’t really demand that they close it.

Presumably, you would have sent out a bulk email with your new contact details prior to leaving the company. As long as you were appropriately thorough, no important emails should end up in this account.

If you’re still feeling paranoid, you could try asking them to shut it down politely. Failing that, request that an automated reply be added which explains you are no longer with the company. (You can then test it yourself by sending an email to the old account.)

Have any readers have been in a similar situation to MI? How did you handle it? Share your stories in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Even if it’s illegal (which it isn’t), you’re going to ask them to shut it down anyway. Why don’t you just politely speak to them?

    • It might not be ‘illegal’ as in there’s a law against it, but the employer runs the risk of tortious misconduct or even recklessness. So a civil suit could ensue. On the other hand, if the employer is representing itself as you, that is potentially fraud and could be a serious offence, particulalry if it can be shown to have been used to gain a benefit. It could therefore be illegal. As lawyers say…it depends.

      • even if it is a civil issue, the first thing a legal company will probably do is send a C&D. Why bother going to the effort of getting a lawyer, when you can give the opportunity for them to rectify the issue?

  • This has happened to me, for the reasons stated in the reply.
    However, if they did impersonate me, that would be grounds for some kind of court case I should think. Finding out that they are and proving it is another matter though :/

    • How so? We explained why his company was keeping his email active, that it wasn’t illegal and suggested ways he could fix the situation.

      • “While we don’t profess to be lawyers, we suspect…”
        Suspecting something doesn’t make it a fact nor true.

        • He didn’t ask for most of what you answered… It was a yes, no, no idea answer to the question.

  • Exchange allows inboxes to be marked as inactive with no user permissions, and to be forwarded to a certain mailing list. Of course, company IT controls the emails so there is a chance they could send out an email pretending to be you. But, this chance is as likely to happen now as it is to happen while you are currently working at the company.

  • We disable all user access to accounts as soon as the user leaves, but we don’t delete the account itself for quite a long time – mostly because we have a surprisingly high rate of people who come back to the company within a year and it’s easier that way. most of the time we don’t bother to redirect incoming mail, it’ll just stagnate there until it’s wiped.

    The chances of somebody impersonating you is low. People you have regular contact with will know you’ve left as will everybody inside the company, and if they’re contacting strangers why would they pretend to be you? Setting up a fake account on the server is crazy fast and would cause them a lot less trouble with auditing (‘why was account x sending emails two weeks after we told you to lock them out’).

    The only thing you have to worry about is the usual one: If you have your facebook or any other personal accounts hooked into the work email, change them. It’s a lot easier to do it while you have access to the account. For everything else, just set up an externally-facing autoresponse that provides your new contact details.

  • Former employer can actually do whatever they like with the mailbox, it’s their asset, they pay for it, they own it. Nine times out of ten a business will leave it open with an auto reply message & then delete after some time. Bottom line….a business can do whatever they like with it because they own it.

  • For some staff we setup their username as an address on another staff member’s account but they can only receive emails from this address, not send them. Other staff who don’t have external clients we just archive and delete.

  • At the end of the day, you’d have no way of knowing if your old email account was active or not, or if it was used to impersonate you. You need to accept that they certainly have the ability to do this, and just as much ability to hide the fact they’re doing this from you. If you know the account is still active, and they say they’re not impersonating you, than that’s likely the truth.

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