Electronic Business Record Retention Grows Increasingly Complex


Electronic Business Record Retention Grows Increasingly Complex

Instant messaging and e-mail create critical business records. And those business records may be subpoenaed by your legal opponent in the event of a workplace lawsuit. The fact that IM and e-mail business records may be considerably more casual and conversational than traditional paper records does not diminish their significance in the eyes of litigators, regulators, and the courts.

As evidence, electronic records hold as much weight as paper records. At the end of the day, all business records—electronic and traditional—must be managed according to the rules, regulations, and policies set forth by your organization and industry, as well as governmental bodies and the courts. [3]

According to analysts at the Enterprise Storage Group, there are some 10,000 federal, state, and local regulations that business must comply with. [4] In the age of IM and e-mail, business record management is an increasingly challenging, burdensome—and absolutely essential—task.

An organization’s IMand e-mail business record retention may be governed by the Securities and Exchange Commission, Department of Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, and a slew of other regulators. Among the documents that must be retained are those related to employee recruitment, hiring, compensation, benefits, and treatment. Among the legislation that governs record retention are the Civil Rights Act, National Labor Relations Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Immigration and Nationality Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Sarbanes-Oxley Act, Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—and the list goes on.

Unfortunately, many employers are doing a poor job when it comes to electronic record retention. According to the ‘‘2003 EMail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey,’’ only 34 percent of employers have a written e-mail retention and deletion policy in place. [5] Of course, a written e-mail retention policy is only as good as your employees’ willingness to adhere to it. A recent study by Cohasset Associates, Inc., reveals that only 17 percent of organizations follow their established electronic retention schedules. Fully 38 percent of survey respondents say they comply with retention schedules irregularly or only when time permits. [6]

What’s the most effective way to increase compliance with email and IM record retention schedules? Join the 27 percent of employers who—according to the ‘‘2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey’’—educate employees about the organization’s e-mail and IM retention policy, and the individual employee’s document retention role.

[3]Nancy Flynn and Randolph Kahn, Esq., E-Mail Rules, New York, AMACOM, 2003.

[4]Donna Johnson Edwards, ‘‘Talking Tech: Who’s Watching Over Your E-Goodies?’’ Richmond.com (March 16, 2004).

[5]‘‘2003 E-Mail Rules, Policies, and Practices Survey,’’ conducted by American Management Association, The ePolicy Institute, and Clearswift. Survey findings available online at www.epolicyinstitute.com.

[6]Donna Johnson Edwards, ‘‘Talking Tech: Who’s Watching Over Your E-Goodies?’’ Richmond.com (March 16, 2004).