When suing an employer for unpaid overtime, is it a federal law that you must keep all personal and business-related emails?

I am formerly a supervisor that was not paid salary and worked many hours of overtime without being paid. I have sought legal counsel to file a suit against this company. In the process, it was suggested to me that federal law mandates my retaining all “personal” and business-related emails, and that they can look at my emails. Since I am not the one at fault here and the burden of proof has already been sent as far as records to the overtime scheduled and worked, are they allowed to go into my personal emails when they are the ones being sued?

Asked on July 3, 2012 under Employment Labor Law, Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Yes, they may be able to see you personal emails. In litigation, either party, plaintiff or defendant, can seek any potentially relevant information or documents from the other party--the defendant is permittted to seek evidence to defend him/her/itself as surely as the plaintiff can seek information to bolster his/her case. If potentially relevant information is deleted or destroyed, the other party could move for sanctions based on the "spoliation" of evidence, which sanctions could include fees and costs, a inference to be give to the fact-finder (e.g. jury) which is unfavorable to your case, or even dismissal of your case. Your personal emails could be relevant in several ways, and your business emails almost certainly are: they can be used to help show whether you were or were not working overtime, to see if  you had made any admissions to others unfavorable to your case, and whether you had said or done anything which could provide some counterclaim or affirmative defense. As such, you should preserve the emails, since if the other side requests them, you may have to provide them or  face sanctions. Note: if they ask for them, you will have the right to object to producing them, for example, on relevancy grounds (if you believe they are not relevant)--but you need to have them in case the court rules you do have to produce them.

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