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Two approaches to handling departed users in Exchange

Here are two techniques for handling incoming e-mails intended for ex-employees.

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Whenever an employee leaves an organization where Exchange and Active Directory are in use, the Exchange administrator typically disables that person's mailbox or sets up some kind of forwarding system.

It's generally not a good idea to delete the user account entirely, as you may need that user's personal data for future use -- for instance, in the event it is subpoenaed or exhumed as part of an SEC investigation or Sarbanes-Oxley compliance action.

That said, if a user is no longer with the organization, what's the best way to handle incoming e-mails meant for that person? There are two commonly-used solutions that don't involve actually deleting the user object, but cause e-mails sent to the person to bounce as needed.

Option 1

The first technique is to simply set the user's e-mail address in his Active Directory object to something that does not correspond to a valid username or domain name in Active Directory.

For instance, if you're managing the domain, and a user [email protected] leaves the organization, you can set his e-mail to something like [email protected] -- provided, of course, you're not authorized to accept e-mail for the domain!

Option 2

A second method, which is slightly more flexible, is to create a custom distribution list specifically for departed users. This not only allows e-mails sent to deleted users to be moved out of the way into the BadMail folder, but also prevents a non-delivery report (NDR) from being generated -- and the fewer NDRs to deal with the, the better.

To do this in Exchange 2000/2003, create a mail-enabled distribution group (or a distribution list in Exchange 5.5). This list or group must have no members.

Add to the new list or group the e-mail addresses of the ex-employees in question, with the e-mail address itself specified as a secondary SMTP address, as would be done for a mailbox (i.e., the addresses need to be added to the E-Mail Addresses tab of the newly-created group).

Any e-mails sent to these addresses will now be bounced to the BadMail folder and will not generate an NDR.

(Thanks to Neil Hobson and his excellent MS Exchange Blog for this tip.)

About the author: Serdar Yegulalp is the editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter and a regular contributor to


We use the second approach with a slightly different twist. We set up a public folder (Exchange 5.5) for each interest group -- e.g., Marketing, R&D, Management, etc. -- so that it is available as read only in, say, Former_R&D_Colleagues. Then we divert the leaver's mail to that.

This provides a high degree of continuity for each department while they adjust to the loss of the leaver, and perhaps better helps any newcomer 'settle in.'

It is then pretty straightforward to archive the leaver's mail, when it is up to three months old, onto two CDs -- one for the safe and one for the relevant department head to have and open as a .PST should the need arise. This unburdens the mail system while still allowing 'reasonable' access for another three months, after which the second disc is also collected. The only nuisance is that, since a CD-R is read-only, it has to be copied to HDD with read-only removed -- otherwise Exchange won't let you open it!
—SA S.


Usually when a person leaves my company (frequent), I disable the account in Active Directory and forward to a routing group called "Left" that has a folder in journaling account. I do this for subpoena reasons and to keep bad mail to a minimum.
—Travis B.

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