Managing E-mail as Records
This guideline will address how to identify transitory and business e-mail records. When e-mails are sent or received in the conduct of university business, they become official records of UFV, and must be managed in accordance with university records retention schedules, policies, and processes. E-mail is the most common form of business communication for the university. The following guidance is intended to inform good practice and procedure in the identification, use, and management of e-mail as records.
Any e-mail that is processed through the university’s servers may be subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). This tip sheet is designed to help UFV employees manage their e-mail records and be aware of privacy and disclosure issues. Just like its paper counterparts, un‐managed e-mails can present legal risk and expense to the university if it is stored beyond its retention period.
Types of e-mail records
- Official university records: e-mails that contain administrative, operational, legal, historical, or business value.
- Duplicates or convenience copies
- Short-term reference records
- Transitory information and spam
Benefits of managing e-mail
- Managing e-mail records lets the university avoid unnecessary duplication and privacy breach when e-mails are filed centrally.
- Identifying records in your e-mail and filing appropriately ensures you and your co-workers have access to the records you need to do your jobs. E-mail is classified and filed in the official recordkeeping system, not left inaccessible and unmanaged in an individual’s e-mail folders. E-mail silos can impact information integrity and harm efficiency in finding information.
- E-mail is disposed of in accordance with approved records retention schedules.
- E-mail server space usage is reduced as duplicate and transitory e-mails are promptly deleted.
- Authorized staff can locate all records required to comply with FOIPPA or litigation requests.
Strategies for managing e-mail
- Make time to manage your inbox, identify, and delete short-term reference e-mail, duplicates, and transitory e-mail when information is no longer useful.
- File e-mail records centrally and immediately and follow by removing records from e-mail.
- If you need to share a document, try to share the location of the file rather than attaching the record to the body of an e-mail.
- Cc or Bcc recipients on a need-to-know basis; limit the use of Reply All.
- Use a meaningful subject line that clearly summarizes the intention of the message. When an email becomes a long thread of replies it may expand or turn to other topics. Ensure the subject line reflects the content of the e-mail message.
- Maintain a professional tone in email messages. Leave personal comments out of business communications.
- Include the previous message in your reply but begin a new message if you want to change the subject. This prevents unrelated subjects from becoming fused.
Filing e-mails as records
A separate document will provide guidelines for filing e-mail records that contain legal, operational, administrative or historical value. UFV is currently in the process of developing a formal records retention schedule, filing naming system, and classification system. This system will build a file plan and disposition rules, which will be applied to e-mail records.
The e-mail system is not a recordkeeping system. A recordkeeping system organizes records according to a file plan, provides shared access to those who need it, and applies retention and disposition rules. Here are some tips for filing e-mail messages:
- If you have an electronic recordkeeping system (shared drive), file e-mail (and attachments) records in that system.
- If you have a paper-based recordkeeping system, periodically print and file the e-mail (and attachments) and then delete them from the e-mail system when appropriate.
- As a temporary measure before filing in a proper recordkeeping system, create folders within the email system that reflect your unit’s file plan. Move e-mail to these folders every day.
Do I need to file every email?
No, you do not. Many e-mails are only of temporary use and are therefore considered transitory. Transitory records are typically kept for only a short period of time for convenience or reference use; for preparation of revisions or a final version of a record; or, to complete immediate and minor transactions. Examples of transitory e-mails include:
- Working materials and non-substantive drafts not scheduled elsewhere.
- Duplicate copies retained for reference purposes.
- Messages (e.g., telephone, fax, e-mail, instant messages) that do not document a decision, activity, or transaction or add any other information needed to meet financial, legal, audit, or other statutory requirements.
Guidelines for determining whether an e-mail message should be considered a formal university record:
- The e-mail documents evidence of a transaction, activity, or the progress toward an ultimate transaction where anything of value is exchanged between two or more parties.
- The e-mail documents or provides support of a business activity occurring that pertains to internal governance policies or compliance to externally mandated regulations.
- The e-mail requires or authorizes an important course of action.
- The e-mail sets a precedent.
- The e-mail details obligations or responsibilities of the university.
- The e-mail message documents other business activities that may possibly be disputed in the future.
It may not be immediately apparent whether the particular e-mail is transitory. Overtime, e-mails may become recognized as a record if they contain the ultimate statement on a particular thread (and therefore an official record) or be superseded by a subsequent record (in which case transitory). Records management is an ongoing process. It is important to continuously review the contents of the folder for records that can be recognized as transitory.
Not sure whether or not an e-mail is an official university record? Contact the Records Manager for assistance.