Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Yours or mine?

Is it ethical for a company to keep active the email address of ex-senior staff months after the person has left?

The question might seem a bit odd. But so far with nearly a year under my belt in Malaysia I know of a few incidents where this has happened with the companies in question using former employees' email accounts to chase business leads.

"I have a problem with my ex-employer who refused to disable my old email address and also did not want to include an auto reply to say I am no longer with the company," a source told me.

"The problem arises when some agencies mistakenly sent proposal requests and bookings to my old email address because Microsoft outlook system recommends the last email address used in the 'To' column. My ex-employer used these email leads to talk to the agencies which I think is unethical," he says.

In this instance the source told me he had written to his ex-company on several occasions for them to activate an auto-reply message telling people he is no longer with the company. Because he still works in the same industry (and is chasing the same clients) as his former company, he declined to be named.

What I can say is he left the company in late 2009 and only this week his email account has been deactivated.

"They told me it [his e-mail account] was company property and they will decide when the time is right to disable it," he says.

A lawyer friend of mine unsurprisingly told me the email accounts are indeed company property despite the huge amounts of personal and confidential information they can contain.

The only question mark is whether it should be considered diligent work on the part of companies who keep old email addresses active (with no auto-reply message) and follow-up business on any potential leads or whether it's unethical to do so.

Over to you guys.

1 comment:

Idea Aunty said...

I too left an ad agency in mid 2008 and was surprised that for several months after my departure my email address was still active. I did something perhaps also not particularly ethical and used the company webmail to access my account to see what personal mail had filled up my mail box. I was not in a business development role so there was really no value in keeping the mail account active for the company. I think just a lack of HR / IT systems.

While it may be legal to use a persons email address after they have leftthe company I believe it is misrepresentation and hugely unethical. Emails are sent by people to people, and while the company behind the person is important it does not negate the goodwill that exists between individuals.

Shame on them for continuing to use the email address!