/ Email disclaimers, are they legally binding?

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Phil Payne - on 02 May 2012
I'm in a bit of a tricky situation at work and need some advice about sending an email to someone that I don't want the recipient to be able to forward or copy to anyone else.

I'm a contractor and I want to let someone at the agency know about some of the stuff happening (seriously dangerous and possibly illegal) at the site where I currently work, but if the agency staff were to forward it on to my boss (also a contractor, but he's the local liaison person for the agency as well)it would probably lead to my early termination.

As I've already told them that I'm leaving in 3 weeks, I'm no longer that bothered about rocking the boat, but I would like to finish the next 3 weeks as I could do with the money.

If I put a disclaimer at the bottom of the email, like the sort you get when you send emails in work, stating that this email is private and confidential and intended solely for the recipient, is this legally binding in any way?

I want to know is, that if I put a disclaimer on my email and then subsequently have my contract terminated as a result of the message being forwarded on, do I have any legal comeback? Obviously it doesn't stop them just talking about my email, but I don't suppose there's anything I can do about that is there?


AJM - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

Hey Phil,

Sounds kind of rubbish. Complicated, especially if your boss "doesn't want to know" about that sort of thing. No idea on the legality I'm afraid, but if you're working for a big company (or big agency) does it have some sort of anonymous whistle blowing service? Alternatively, might be worth looking at legal protections for whistleblowers - certainly permanent employees in the UK usually have some sort of legal protection, but I don't know how common that is in other situations. Alternatively I guess if your conscience and the danger level allows you could always wait 3 weeks, depends on the situation really.

You likely to be home in Cham over the summer - planning a lightning week out there some time Jul/Aug.

You well otherwise?

KevinD - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

the training i have had is that those disclaimers are very unlikely they would be legally binding.
What about speaking with them instead, less of a paper trail?
Phil Payne - on 02 May 2012
In reply to AJM:

Hey Andy,

Yeah, it's kind of a rubbish situation, but not too much longer to suffer it. I'm actually working for Airbus Military in Seville, so you could say that it's a pretty big company, but to be honest the setup is so complicated that I wouldn't even know who to speak to here as pretty much everyone is a contractor.

I'll probably just bite my tongue and then send the email on my last day.

I'm heading home at the end of May, so should be at home as I'm not planning on working again before September. We've got a few holidays booked, so not sure when we'll be about, but think at least 2-3 weeks in July and a week at some point in August we will be away. Give me a shout closer to the time and I'll be able to tell you if I'm about as it would be great to catch up for a beer.

I've seen your posts in the fit club and it looks like you're really cranking the grades now and will be bagging your first 8a soon. I hope to get out loads once I get back home, but just hoping to get to 6b, so not very good at all.
AJM - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

I'll keep you posted then - no dates set yet so if you let me know when you are home I'll try and make it coincide...

Certainly going to have a good go! Next year will be the big push I reckon.

Check posters/HR/intranet/etc - a company that big must have something! Or try and find their H&S people if such things exist...
dave657 on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

Dangerous in what way? Just because if it's a H&S issue then you potentially have a legal obligation to notify someone.
deepsoup - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:
Even if it was legally binding, can you really see any future in trying to take them to court to claim three weeks' wages?

If you emailed anonymously, would it be obvious it was you?
Don't suppose you're in a union by any chance?
highclimber - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne: Look at it this way - if you were to keep schtum and someone got hurt or dead would you be able to sleep easy knowing you could have potentially saved someone's injury/death? I would send an email to HSE regarding these matters ASAP.
Phil Payne - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

I can't go into details on here, but it's nothing to do with H&S, more with Aviation regulations, but not sure if it would fall under EASA or the Spanish aviation authority.

Obviously I'm not going to tell you how much I earn, but 3 weeks of pay is a considerable sum and I most certainly would take them to court to get it back if I was prematurely terminated for whistle blowing.
Philip on 02 May 2012
In reply to highclimber:

I asked the same question when my MD's PA wanted to get us all to add disclaimers. I don't see how you can legally bind someone to the terms without their prior consent.

However, you could E-mail asking to discuss a confidential matter.
Dave Garnett - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Philip:
> (In reply to highclimber)
> I don't see how you can legally bind someone to the terms without their prior consent.

That indeed is the problem. The best you can do is to put 'Confidential' in the title so that the recipient is aware before they open it, and then have your disclaimer ('This email is confidential and intended for the named addressee only etc' above the message. Still not sure how enforceable this is in practice but it's the best you can do. Personally, I think you're wise not to rely on it, however.
In reply to Phil Payne: Can I suggest using the telephone, as there is no electronic email to forwards.

Just an idea!
Jaffacake - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

Just sticking a disclaimer on an email doesn't mean anything, really you need a confidentiality agreement that both parties have agreed to before disclosure (saying afterwards "btw, I just told you something so you're now bound to these terms" doesn't really have much standing).

I'd at least send an email asking to discuss a confidential matter and having them reply before hand, probably not much legal standing (as anyone could have replied) as just sending it there's a risk it could be read by anyone. (Not that you have any guarantee a corporate email network is confidential anyway).
John_Hat - on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:

Nope. At the end if the day what is stopping the person simply typing out the whole thing and sending it on with a comment on the top that "Phil Payne said"?

The problem is that there's is actually no physical way of stopping them sharing what you have told them. If you're going to tell them they can and most certainly will pass it on.

Personally, in your shoes, I'd write a reasonably well reasoned and non-confrontational e.g. "

I could be wrong, but I'm a little worried and would be grateful if you could put my mind at ease. I'm a little confused in the interpretation of regulations Section 56473#/679ATg1 in relation to the "sawing off the planes wing before test flight" paragraph, and would be grateful if you could assure me that I am in error.

..sort of thing..
thin bob on 02 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne:
Send a letter marked 'private & confidential', recorded delivery?
Public Concern At Work

or an anonymous call/letter to an industry regulator? Major customer?
Good luck.
antdav - on 03 May 2012
As a contractor, proving they let you go early because of your proposed actions will be tough. I'm assuming you're on a rolling contract, so they'll just say the project finished early. May as well wait a few weeks and then sort it out in your last week.
Liam M - on 03 May 2012
In reply to Phil Payne: If it was a serious breach of something mandated by a certifying body, then I expect you could contact any of those bodies, as someone the size of Airbus will probably want to be certified by most authorities. With organisations like the JAA I can imagine they're reasonable at sharing info as well.

My limited experience of them is the aviation authorities like their protocols ( just see how good they've been at rejecting TP400 software) and making companies stick to them.

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