Email retention is an issue for all companies. While certain industries, such as medical and financial service providers, and publicly-traded companies, must comply with special regulations regarding electronic records, all companies need to consider a policy about retaining emails and other documents.
The vast majority of business correspondence is electronic. Contracts, discussions, complaints, websites, blogs—electronic records are used for everything. All of that information can play a part if your company is involved in a lawsuit.
While no one wants to think about being involved in a lawsuit, they happen frequently a Fulbright and Jaworski, LLC survey of US companies found 90% of them were involved in litigation. Though smaller companies are not typically involved in class action suits, for instance; they can find themselves defending against contract disputes, claims of hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and other types of legal action.
If your company is involved in a lawsuit, you will inevitably be required to produce records; including electronic records such as emails, digital images, text messages, instant messages and so on.
So, is the answer to store everything forever? Absolutely not! Email retention and electronic storage is expensive plus the biggest expense of a lawsuit is typically the time spent for attorneys to review documents.
If you have a reasonable Electronic Records Policy that limits the amount of time you retain documents and specifies which types of emails you will store, you’ve limited your storage needs and you’ve also limited the number of documents attorneys would need to review in a lawsuit.
What is an Electronic Records Policy?
An Electronic Records Policy needs to be understandable, specifically explained to employees, and should cover the following:
- First, make sure the policy is clear about what type of emails, images, and topics are allowed and those that are prohibited for your business’ electronic correspondence. You might want to consider a filter to help prevent prohibited jokes, racial slurs, etc.
- Be precise about what type of correspondence and documents must be retained.
- Be specific about how long you retain each type of electronic record—perhaps 2 years for emails, 2 days for instant messages, for instance. Some companies make an exception for the CEO and keep those emails forever.
- You should also require employees to store electronic communications on your server instead of on their individual workstation computers to make implementing these retention policies possible. If an email, for instance, is stored on a local drive, the assumption is that it can be altered and therefore isn’t valid.
Make sure your employees are educated about these policies. Having them sign a document agreeing to abide by the policies can save you from litigation. You need to specify how you will enforce the policies and the consequences if they’re violated.
How do I Keep Track of These Records?
While email retention and electronic record storage can sound a bit burdensome, there are numerous tools available to help you properly retain, delete, and protect your electronic records. Some archive managers to consider include Barracuda Networks©, GFI©, Quest© (which has been recently purchased by Dell Computers©), and Sonasoft©.
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Alesa Locklear provides content marketing, such as blogs and e-newsletters, to companies wanting to stay in touch with prospects and customers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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