Whether they are emails, text messages, message board comments or Facebook messages, electronic messages can be used as evidence in legal disputes in the same way that letters and paper documents can. However, because electronic mediums lend themselves to casual use, people often forget this, which can result in serious legal issues.
Electronic Messaging at the Office
Company emails and message boards should never be used for personal use. Even though it's harder to track whether an employee is using company electronic messaging systems for personal use than it is to track, for example, company phone use, using company emails and other electronic mediums for personal use can make people careless. Informality in company electronic messages can lead to gossip and libel complaints that can turn into serious legal issues.
To avoid liability, employers have to put into place a solid electronic messaging policy. One that makes it clear what the acceptable uses of company emails and message boards is. It's also important for companies to remind employees that, just because they erase an email or electronic message, it does not mean that it cannot be retrieved. Once it is sent, it will exist in someone else's inbox, and it can be forwarded to multiple recipients from there. And any legal liability that can result from traditional, paper documents can result from electronic documents ending up in the wrong places.
In cases of sexual harassment, slander and discrimination, emails and other electronic messages are often catalysts for court rulings and sentences. Third parties can sue companies based on the electronic activity of the company's employees. These may include libel against a rival company or a violation of email spam and harassment laws.
Also, it's important to keep in mind that just because you have a PDF copy of a published document saved onto your computer, it does not mean you have the rights to it. Even forwarding a copy written piece within a company's electronic messaging system can lead to potential legal issues. Make sure that you use a legal review management company to find out if you require any special permission from the publisher before copying and sharing intellectual property through electronic means.