Suspending employee access to email account
December 27, 2012 9:25 AM   Subscribe

What are the laws and or regulations about "possession" of employee/company email after an employee is terminated?

Long story short, I run a successful music blog and one of our top writers / journalists evidently took a job at another magazine and is trying to take other writers with him.

Because of these actions, I'd hate to think of what he could or would do with access to the hundreds of industry contacts he has stored in his email.

So because he is no longer working with/for us, am I legally allowed to suspend access to his email account, effectively barring him from accessing these contacts?
posted by ascetic to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You need a lawyer immediately. There are a number of pitfalls in this situation that you could walk into unawares if you try to internet-lawyer this.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:29 AM on December 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

In before the "But the company owns the email system!" nonsense. You need a lawyer and once you've got one, use them to put a sensible HR and infosec policy regarding email monitoring and access in place while you're at it.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:32 AM on December 27, 2012

Response by poster: Also, I should have specified - to complicate matters further, this guy used to be a friend. We formed an LLC but never finalized any official documents. I suppose I have the "advantage" however that I have the password for everything billing, financial, technical, software, hardware, etc. I literally operate 100% of the backend and I'm the only one with the password(s).
posted by ascetic at 9:35 AM on December 27, 2012

Sure, assuming you supplied him with an email account and he conducted all business from that account, you can cut his access out no problem. Because you own the email account, there should be an immediate technical solution to the problem.

Regarding any emails he may have cached on his personal devices - did he sign a contact agreeing to destroy it when his employment ended? If so, it's time for a note reminding him of this.

I take it from the way you write the question, neither of those are in play. You are going to have to offer him something now to relinquish the email. It's lawyer time.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:36 AM on December 27, 2012

On viewing your reply: change all passwords today.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:37 AM on December 27, 2012

I used to be a paid blogger, and frankly, finding the contact information for various journalists, PR types, media relations staff and so on, isn't all that hard. Even if he can't access his old emails, he'll be able to find these people through other methods. Rather than make this all adversarial and fighty, try to take the high road. You never know when you might run into him again or need a favor or whatever.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:42 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You absolutely need a lawyer for all the reasons stated above, and also because you need to know what sort of business entity you actually formed.
posted by Handstand Devil at 10:01 AM on December 27, 2012

I am a lawyer, sometimes an employment lawyer, but not in your state and this is not legal advice.

If I were you, I would change this dude's passwords (but not delete anything) and then consult an employment lawyer. Who did you work with regarding your LLC papers? Ask him or her for a reference. If all else fails, check out the NY state bar website for legal aid.
posted by anthropomorphic at 10:07 AM on December 27, 2012

Although, are you sure he doesn't have the contacts on, say, his phone? Synced through iCloud, maybe?
posted by anthropomorphic at 10:08 AM on December 27, 2012

Note that he may have emailed his contacts, important emails, and projects to himself ages ago. He also may have printed everything at the office to eliminate the email trail.
posted by lstanley at 10:12 AM on December 27, 2012

In my mind, while contacts are certainly valuable in these situations, they don't have the transactional value of sales leads (for which there is case law, but IANAL). You really can't control, for example, whether he's connected to any of these people on Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter. The real issue here is that you should have had a non-compete in place. Even if they're nearly valueless legally they can constrain behavior.
posted by dhartung at 11:19 AM on December 27, 2012

I'd hate to think of what he could or would do with access to the hundreds of industry contacts he has stored in his email.

If he's got half a brain, he saved any important info out of his account from you before he told you he was leaving.
posted by jacalata at 3:11 PM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

assuming that it is an email account that is from your domain, which you provided to him for the purposes of fulfilling his role, then just change the damn password, and lock him out. This is SOP.

That said, IAAL IANYL, TINLA ... the above advice is pretty clear for paid employees ... I'm going to guess that wasn't exactly your relationship ... you need to lock the account while you workout what your exact relationship was, and how that effects you moving forward.
posted by jannw at 6:05 AM on December 28, 2012

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