Mass Email: What to Do When You Send Them Accidentally

Sending a mass email unintentionally is something everybody does at least once. All that’s required is a distribution list, and hitting the wrong thing. The problems, however, have only just started when you send.

Mass Email Issues

A mass email can distribute anything, broadcasting information to your entire distribution list. The risks of sending are sometimes very serious, and to understand the issues, it’s necessary to explain the situations which may arise.

These are the high risk scenarios:

Sending Confidential or Secret Information: The sending of the information may have been unintentional, but the fact remains that the information has been disseminated, and it shouldn’t even have been released. If the mass email is based on a mailing list, that information may be sent direct to interested parties, including the subjects of the information. Legal advice will be required regarding the ramifications.

Sending Internal Company Materials Not Approved for Release: This can mean broadcasting information prior to management review. Things like Human Resources reports, working papers, efficiency studies or other sensitive information may wind up being read by the people who are the subjects of those materials.

Private Personal Information: This is a serious risk to any person concerned. If this information is misused, possible identity theft, or other serious issues may result. This type of incident may well result in legal action.

Office Gossip Emails: There’s usually no good side to office gossip. If an email containing it is sent to management, business clients and staff, the subject of that email will be heading for a lawyer. 

What to Do

The damage has been done when the materials are sent. Disclaimers on emails requesting deletion aren’t binding on anyone.

This is the situation, and what to do about it:

Check to See If the Batch Has Actually Been Sent. Some types of email software can prevent accidental mailouts. It can also take a while to send a big mailing list, so you may be able to shut it down before too many emails go out, and pin down a relatively few recipients. 

Notify the Manager Immediately, When You’re Sure the Emails Have Been Sent. It may be possible to undo some of the damage. The manager needs to know:

  1. What was sent
  2. To whom
  3. When it was sent
  4. What you did about it

Check with Your IT Section. If your IT section routinely checks emails for abuse of the system, it may be they haven’t been sent. If so, you’re in luck.

Your Responsibility

Do not deny sending the emails. Everybody else will be able to prove beyond doubt they didn’t send them, and you’ll only add an actual offense to an honest mistake by lying about the situation.

This is a mess which has to be cleaned up. Management will be well aware the mailout was unintentional, but the first priority is to clean it up. You’ll have some moments to figure out how you made the mistake.

How the problem happened is very relevant. Some email systems have their own problems, which create situations like this. You’re unlikely to be the first person to have made this mistake, if that’s the case.