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Email Disclaimer Guide With Templates & Examples

Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP

by Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP

July 26, 2022

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If you scroll down to the bottom of any email sent by a business, NGO, or government office, you will likely find a few lines or more of fine print.

This fine print is known as an email disclaimer.

You can use an email disclaimer to fulfill legal requirements, protect your company from lawsuits, and provide instructions for what to do if the email has reached the wrong person — among other things.

Read on to learn more about email disclaimers and when and how to use them.

Table of Contents
  1. What Is an Email Disclaimer?
  2. When To Use an Email Disclaimer
  3. Types of Email Disclaimers With Examples & Templates
  4. Benefits of Email Disclaimers
  5. How To Write an Email Disclaimer (with Tips)
  6. Summary

What Is an Email Disclaimer?

An email disclaimer is a short paragraph included with an email to inform the recipient of their rights or obligations regarding the information in the email, or to exempt the sender from liability if the information in the email is used incorrectly.

Conducting business online helps your company reach a much greater pool of potential customers. However, it does come with a couple of additional steps for the owner or manager of the business.

Some laws govern how people’s personal information ⁠— including their full name, date of birth, address, bank information, medical records, and so on ⁠— is handled online. The penalties for breaking these laws can cost you a great deal of money and lengthy proceedings in court.

Here’s a quick example of an email disclaimer (we will show you more below):

The content of this email is intended for the person or entity to which it is addressed only. This email may contain confidential information. If you are not the person to whom this message is addressed, be aware that any use, reproduction, or distribution of this message is strictly prohibited. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and immediately delete this email and any attachments.

Email disclaimers don’t fully exempt you and your company from all liability; however, they fulfill some legal requirements and offer protection in conjunction with other measures you need to take.

Do Email Disclaimers Offer Legal Protection?

Email disclaimers offer some legal protection, though this is a complex issue. The answer can change from country to country depending upon the type of legal protection and the intended entity.

Usually, email senders create disclaimers to protect themselves, but in some cases, they may offer protection for the recipient too. For example, a disclaimer might protect both the sender and the recipient if an email containing confidential data gets sent to the wrong email address.

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the most common forms of legally protected information and how email disclaimers come into play.

Legally protected data includes:

  • HIPAA-Protected Information

    • Full compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) requires several specific measures to ensure that the security of patients’ health information, including their medical history. These include end-to-end encryption and storage of patient emails with sensitive data in dedicated servers.
    • Adding a confidentiality disclaimer is not enough to make your email HIPAA compliant, but it is part of the compliance process. In this case, a disclaimer can also protect the sender if they accidentally send an email containing patient health information to the wrong address.
  • Client Confidentiality

    • Lawyers and psychological therapists are bound by rules specific to their professions not to share what their clients tell them with any third parties unless the client agrees. In this case, an email disclaimer is not enough to gain permission for sharing client information with third parties, since the client needs to expressly agree to what information and with whom it will be shared.
    • Likewise, a confidentiality disclaimer stating that the information contained in the email is not to be spread to third parties is not typically enforceable by law in the United States in the case that the email is sent to the wrong person.
    • While their necessity and status as a legally protective measure are open to debate in many instances, it is generally viewed as a best practice for lawyers and therapists to include an informative disclaimer advising clients to use caution when sending confidential information via email.

Do I need an email disclaimer?

No, you do not legally need an email disclaimer. However, if you send emails containing confidential information, adding a confidentiality disclaimer to your emails could protect you in the event of a legal complaint.

A confidentiality disclaimer alerts the email recipient that content contained within the email is meant only for the addressee.

When To Use an Email Disclaimer

Here are some of the most common situations when you need an email disclaimer:

Businesses Targeting Consumers in Europe

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is designed to protect people’s personal data in Europe and contains several specific requirements for businesses that handle consumer information.

Any business that offers goods or services to people residing in the European Union, Iceland, Sweden, Lichtenstein, or Norway ⁠— or any business that monitors the online behavior of people in any of these areas ⁠— must comply with the GDPR. This includes companies that are not based in the European Union or the European Economic Area.

Including a privacy disclaimer in emails can help reassure consumers that your company’s policies are in line with the GDPR, so they feel more confident entrusting their personal data to your company’s representatives.

To be safe, a privacy disclaimer should be included with all email communications that originate from your company’s official email account that may be sent to someone residing in the protected areas of Europe.

Some Businesses Targeting Consumers in California, Colorado, Virginia, and Utah

There are currently four US States with consumer privacy laws: California, Colorado, Virginia, and Utah. Of the four, California’s law is the only one already to have taken effect. The other three will be enacted in 2023.

More states have similar consumer privacy laws currently in the works, which leads many to believe it’s only a matter of time before a federal law is created. Thus, it would be a prudent move for even local businesses in states that do not have current legislation in place to adhere to consumer privacy best practices in order to avoid a last-minute scramble to change policies in order to become compliant.

As a guideline, California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has stipulated that any business that generates at least $25 million in gross annual revenue, handles 100,000 or more peoples’ personal data per year, or gets at least 50% of its revenue from selling consumer data is subject to the regulations. Where the company is headquartered doesn’t matter; what matters is who is receiving the emails.

If your company is sending emails to California residents, make sure that any data collected is handled in accordance with the CCPA’s regulations.

Though each of the states’ laws are slightly different in terms of what types of businesses are covered by the regulations and the means by which they are required to protect consumer data, they do have a couple of important elements in common.

  1. They all require that businesses make consumers aware of their privacy policy. One effective way of accomplishing this is to include a disclaimer in the signature of every email that is sent to potential customers and clients.
  2. They all carry substantial punishments for non-compliance, including fines and even loss or suspension of business license in some cases.

Be sure to include a link to your privacy policy in the email disclaimer for any marketing and promotional materials that may reach people in protected states.

Healthcare and Health Insurance Industry Workers

Anyone who handles medical history, medical records, or other patient health data needs to be very sure they are compliant with HIPAA regulations for sending sensitive patient information via email. This includes people in many industries and professions, from doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, and pharmacists to insurance agents, brokerages, and administrative assistants.

To be HIPAA compliant, emails containing patient health information need to be protected by security measures such as end-to-end encryption.

Willful violations of HIPAA can result in fines of up to $1.5 million and even jail time. The severity of the punishment for a HIPAA infraction is based upon the level of negligence involved. Therefore, it is certainly in your company’s best interest to do their due diligence in including a HIPAA-compliant email disclaimer when dealing with patient health information in any way.

Automated Emails and Newsletters in Canada, Australia, the United States, and Europe

Anti-spam laws in Canada and Australia require that any newsletters or other correspondence sent to multiple customers via email must include an unsubscribe option as part of the email signature disclaimer.

Any business operating in Canada or Australia or sending emails to Canadian or Australian residents must follow this regulation. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to 10 million Canadian dollars or 1.7 million Australian dollars.

Since the US and European Union member countries also require an unsubscribe or opt-out option in addition to their consumer data privacy protection laws, it is safe to say that any company operating internationally or sending mass emails or newsletters needs an unsubscribe disclaimer.

Professional Services That Have Access to Confidential Information

Any information that could be used to identify a person, aside from their name, can be considered confidential information. That includes bank account information, date of birth, home address, social security number or tax identification number, medical history, and other identifying information.

This means that businesses in nearly any industry are affected by rules governing the handling of confidential client data. For example, financial institutions such as banks and credit card companies, accountants, tax preparation professionals, and financial advisors all regularly send and receive emails that contain confidential bank account information, for example.

Any time you are sending confidential information by email, a confidentiality email disclaimer should be included to protect the sender from potential litigation in the event that the email is mistakenly sent to the wrong email address.

Due to the ever-changing nature of data protection regulations, there is still quite a bit of grey area when it comes to how much legal protection, if any, is provided by email disclaimers. An email confidentiality disclaimer may be enough to protect the sender in one case, depending on the circumstances surrounding the error and the geographical location of the person to whom the email was sent, and carry very little or no weight in another case.

Types of Email Disclaimers With Examples & Templates

Email disclaimers can vary in tone from deadly serious to fun and light-hearted, depending upon the image that the company wishes to portray. They can range in purpose from friendly reminders to legally mandated disclosures of information.

We take a look at the most common email disclaimer examples below:

Confidentiality Email Disclaimer Examples

These should be included when the email contains information that could be used to identify a person, such as bank account information, social security number, address, or taxpayer-identification number.

You can use them as a warning of legal consequences to the receiver if the email is accidentally sent to the wrong person. You can also use them to reassure the recipient that their confidential data is being handled with care.

Example of an email confidentiality disclaimer: 

The content of this email is intended for the person or entity to which it is addressed only. This email may contain confidential information. If you are not the person to whom this message is addressed, be aware that any use, reproduction, or distribution of this message is strictly prohibited. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and immediately delete this email and any attachments.

Example 2:

(Your Company) makes protecting client information the highest priority. If you have received this message in error, please inform the sender and delete this email along with any attachments immediately. The information contained in this email may be legally-protected, confidential data. Any unauthorized use may result in legal action, including fines and jail time.

Privileged and Confidential Email Disclaimer Sample

In professions where people have a reasonable expectation that the information they share will be confidential, a higher degree of care needs to be taken to ensure the client’s right to privacy is being respected. This is doubly true with information that divulges illegal, unethical, or immoral activity on the part of the client.

In these instances, the disclaimer should be placed at the top of the email rather than the footer, as is more common. These types of email disclaimers tend to be more strongly worded as well.

Affected professions include lawyers, psychological health professionals such as therapists and psychiatrists, life coaches, religious authorities, and spiritual advisors.

Example of a privileged and confidential information email disclaimer:

IMPORTANT: This email may discuss privileged and confidential information. Viewing, forwarding, or printing this email is strictly restricted to the person named. If you are not the intended recipient, you are required to inform the sender of their error and delete the email and any attachments without delay.

External Email Disclaimer Examples

External email disclaimers are used to alert the recipient that an email is coming from outside of their email system. For example, it might be automatically included in emails that originate outside of the recipient’s hospital, university, or company.

Example of an external email disclaimer:

EXTERNAL EMAIL! Use caution when sending personal data or opening attachments.

Example 2:

Caution: External Email. This email originated from outside of the (Your Company) system. Do not open attachments or click on links from unknown sources.

Virus Transmission Email Disclaimer Sample

The purpose of virus transmission disclaimers is to protect the sender from liability if malware is somehow transmitted along with the email. These are useful for marketing materials or newsletters that contain links to various outside sources.

Example of a virus transmission email disclaimer:

Despite (Your Company’s) dedication to online security, we cannot guarantee the safety of external links. Please exercise caution when clicking links to avoid transmitting viruses and other malware.

Unsubscribe Email Disclaimer Sample

Many countries’ anti-spam legislation, including the US, Canada, and European Union member countries, specifies that newsletters and other types of marketing materials that are sent en masse via email must include an opt-out or unsubscribe option as a clickable link.

This is usually included in the email footer or signature along with other required information, such as the company’s mailing address and legally registered name.

Example of an unsubscribe email disclaimer:

If you no longer wish to receive emails from (Your Company), click here to be removed from our mailing list.

Opinion Email Disclaimer Sample

This type of email disclaimer is useful for newsletters or in any email in which individual employees are expressing opinions that could potentially be seen as offensive or controversial. They are intended to protect the company from being sued or from receiving negative attention from the press.

Example of an opinion email disclaimer:

The opinions expressed in this email are the viewpoint of the author only and do not represent (Your Company’s) stance on any issue, whether social or political in nature.

Email Legal Disclaimer Examples

“Legal disclaimer” is an umbrella term that covers most types of email disclaimers designed to help the sender avoid litigation. They can also be used to inform the recipient that the information in the email does not create a legally binding contract with the company.

For example, legal disclaimers are often used by employers when discussing a job position with a potential candidate. They clarify that, for example, describing the work hours and responsibilities of the job in an email does not constitute an employment contract or mean that the recipient has been hired.

Example of a legal email disclaimer:

This email is for informational purposes only and does not constitute an employment offer.

Example 2:

This is not an offer of employment or any other legally binding contract.

Environmentally-Conscious Email Disclaimer Sample

To show that your company values ecological responsibility, you may choose to include a reminder to conserve resources whenever possible.

Example of an environmentally-conscious email disclaimer:

Save a tree! Please don’t print this email unless absolutely necessary.

HIPAA Email Disclaimer Sample

HIPAA is a series of laws that regulate how people’s medical information is handled digitally. It is important to reiterate that including a HIPAA email disclaimer is not enough in itself to ensure full compliance with HIPAA.

HIPAA medical disclaimers need to address the following points:

  1. That no email is 100% secure;
  2. That the email may contain personal or confidential information and is intended only for the recipient named in the email; and
  3. That there are legal consequences for using or distributing other people’s medical information without their consent.

Example of a HIPPA email disclaimer:

This email may contain health information that is protected by law. Although (Your Company) is fully compliant with all regulations for the protection of our patients’ health information, no email is completely secure. We urge you not to include personal data in emails. If this email has reached you by mistake, please delete the email and any attachments at once to avoid legal consequences.

GDPR-compliant Email Disclaimer Sample

Any email that might reach a resident of the European Union or the European Economic Area should contain a disclaimer.

A GDPR-compliant email disclaimer should include a link to the company’s privacy policy and inform the recipient of some of their rights as a consumer.

Example of a GDPR-compliant email disclaimer:

(Your Company) is proud to be fully compliant with GDPR requirements for protecting our customers’ personal data. View our privacy policy here for more information about how we ensure the security of your health information. If this email has reached you in error, be advised that sharing this information with any third party is strictly forbidden.

Benefits of Email Disclaimers

As with other types of disclaimers, using email disclaimers correctly can potentially save your company millions of dollars in fines and legal fees that would be spent fighting litigation. They also help your customers and clients feel secure in knowing that your company is doing its utmost to protect their data.

Email disclaimers can even be an opportunity to showcase your company’s values and portray a more trustworthy and responsible image.

Risks of Not Using an Email Disclaimer

Failing to use email disclaimers well may result in massive fines for non-compliance with online data protection regulations. Not including an email disclaimer is a mistake that could leave your company and its management open to being sued.

For example, without a confidentiality disclaimer, someone who receives an email not intended for them may not know what to do and could make the problem worse.

How To Write an Email Disclaimer (with Tips)

The name of the game when writing an email disclaimer is clarity. You want to convey the message without unnecessary jargon, or wordiness.

Use enough words to accurately get your point across, but not so many that the meaning of the disclaimer is lost in a block of tiny words that no one is going to read.

Consider how strongly you want to word the disclaimer; do you want to phrase it as a polite request or more of an order?

As always, seeking expert advice is strongly recommended when dealing with anything that might have legal or financial consequences for your company and its representatives.

Summary

Although the current state of the laws regulating the security and privacy of online data is ever-shifting and rife with vagueness, keeping your company’s policies up to date ultimately benefits both your bottom line and your customers.

Email disclaimers are an important component to ensure that all reasonable steps are being taken to protect confidential information and to protect your company from being held liable for mistakes and oversights. At the very least, email disclaimers don’t do any harm, and they keep your legal team happy.

Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP
More about the author

Written by Masha Komnenic CIPP/E, CIPM, CIPT, FIP

Masha is an Information Security and Data Privacy Specialist and a Certified Data Protection Officer. She has been a Data Protection Officer for the past six years, helping small and medium-sized enterprises achieve legal compliance. She has also been a privacy compliance mentor to many international business accelerators. She specializes... More about the author

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