August 24, 2018

Can government employees’ personal emails be subject to open records requests?

Dear Consumer Ed:

I work for County government.  I recently forwarded a work email to my personal email address so I could do some work from home. Since doing that, a coworker told me that everything in my personal email account could be reviewed if there is ever an open records request.  Is that true? 

Consumer Ed says:

If government employees use their personal email accounts for work purposes, the personal email account must be reviewed carefully when the government business receives a public records request.  Any email sent to or from your personal email account that pertains to government business is subject to disclosure. Purely personal emails on a government employee’s personal email account are not subject to disclosure.  Therefore, public employees who have work-related emails in their personal account should – in response to an Open Records request – review their personal email account to find emails that might be responsive to the request. 

As a government employee, if you receive work-related emails, it is recommended that you forward those emails to your government email address immediately.  Ultimately, the best course of action is that government employees only use their government email accounts for government business and their personal email accounts for personal matters. 

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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