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An e-mailed contract is legally binding, too


I work as a consultant from home and perform tasks outlined in a contract I agreed to via e-mail. The contract obviously couldn't be signed. Even though a lawyer told me the electronic document is legal and binding, I am uneasy because a colleague in a similar situation ran into a problem.

"You can depend on your e-mail contract just about as much as you can on any contract," said Alan L. Sklover, an employment law specialist in New York and author of Fired, Downsized, or Laid Off: What Your Employer Doesn't Want You to Know About How to Fight Back (Henry Holt & Co., $15).

Despite the electronic venue, the basic understanding of contract law applies, he said. "Once two people have a mutual understanding ... and one or both begin to perform their side of the bargain," he said, "they have a legally enforceable agreement."

Even an oral agreement can be enforced, he said, provided you have solid evidence to support it. Likewise, an e-mail contract is also enforceable, as long as you can establish whose computer sent it. In fact, he said, "A written, signed contract is only one type of good evidence of an enforceable agreement."

Other "equally good evidence" of an enforceable agreement would be a videotape or an oral statement under oath in court, he said. To be sure, e-mail contracts, as any other agreements, are subject to fraud. "All contracts have potential problems, such as forgery," he said.

If you still need more comfort, then simply print out two copies of the e-mail contract. Sign both and mail one to the company and keep one for your files.

Carrie Mason-Draffen is a columnist for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. E-mail her at yourmoney@tribune.com.

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