What to do with the mailbox after the employee’s departure?


Many employers are faced with this question when an employee leaves the company. Despite the departure of an employee, the employer may still have an interest in (temporarily) retaining and/or using the professional mailbox of this ex-employee (e.g. to ensure continuity towards customers). 

However, the (temporary) use and retention of this professional mailbox by the employer needs to take several legal hurdles, including - not least - concerning the processing of personal data, which is governed by a European regulation, better known as the GDPR. 

The Belgian Data Protection Authority ("DPA") has already had several occasions to comment on this issue - most recently, in a decision of 21 September 2023 (decision 135/2023). The DPA’s position in this matter is - in general - as follows: 

  • Retention of the professional mailbox is justified if - no later than the day of the employee's departure - the professional mailbox is provided with an automatic message.
  • The purpose of the automatic message should be alerting correspondents about the employee's departure and designating a new person of contact.
  • The automatic message can only be linked to this professional mailbox for a "reasonable period" (1 month - with depending on the context and subject to the ex-employee's consent, the possibility of extending this period to 3 months).
  • The continued use - not just retention - of the professional mailbox after the employee's departure requires the explicit consent of the former employee concerned.

In this context, we also recall that it is forbidden by law to take notice of the content of an e-mail that is not addressed to you, except with the consent of all concerned. Thus, it is not allowed to automatically forward e-mails addressed to an employee who has left the company to a colleague for follow-up.

At Reliance Littler, we are ready to guide you - and offer practical solutions - in any (GDPR and/or employment law) issue you face in your day-to-day practice.