University of Washington Email Policy
Every University of Washington employee is individually responsible for handling and maintaining records (including University email and other electronic records) in accordance with University policy and requirements. Emails are records which may contain evidence of official University actions, decisions, approvals, or transactions. Email is subject to Washington State law, RCW 40.14, which applies to the preservation and destruction of records.
Section 1: How Long Do I Keep Email Messages I Have Received and Sent?
Email you can delete
Most received and sent emails have a very transitory value. They have no administrative, legal, fiscal, or archival retention requirements and can therefore be deleted as soon as they have fulfilled their reference purpose. Examples of such email messages include:
- Preliminary drafts
- Routine replies/requests for information
- Emails sent as reference or for informational distribution
- Emails used to set-up or accept meetings
Refer to the full list of content that does not have to be retained.
Email you must keep
All other email messages, both sent and received, must be retained for a designated amount of time (retention period). Retention periods are listed on a Records Retention Schedule. The retention period is based on the content of each individual email.
Emails that contain the following types of information have specific retention periods:
- Policy and procedure directives
- Substantive decisions regarding matters of University business
- Legal, discipline, or audit issues
- Approvals for purchases, HR decisions, and other actions to be taken
- Financial records including invoices and receipts
- Final reports or recommendations
- Student advising files
- Documentation of departmental/office actions, decisions, operations and responsibilities
Section 2: How Do I Delete My Email Messages?
Deleting an email is the first step toward eliminating information that does not require further retention.
- Delete emails in your Inbox, Sent Mail, and other folders that are not required to be retained or have passed their retention periods
- If you save a message that is the last in a thread of emails, you may be inadvertently saving content that you do not want or need as part of the previous messages in the string. Try to save only the information that is pertinent to a subject and not parts of a string that are unrelated.
It is not enough to move messages to the Deleted Items/Trash folder. While doing so can hide your messages from searches, it does not fully remove your ability to access them. You must empty your Deleted Items/Trash folder in order to delete and fully eliminate your responsibility for those messages. Below are instructions for emptying the Deleted Items/Trash folders from Outlook and Gmail. If you are using another email client, your instructions may be different.
In Microsoft Outlook, the Deleted Items folder stores the messages you have deleted. To completely delete these messages you must empty the Deleted Items folder. Right click on the Deleted Items folder and click Empty Folder to permanently delete emails. (Outlook 2016)
Be sure to regularly check your Junk Email and Clutter folders for emails that can be deleted.
In Gmail, the Trash folder stores the messages you have deleted. To completely delete these messages you must empty the Trash folder. On the left side of the page, click More and then Trash. To delete a single message, open the message and click Delete forever. To delete all messages in your trash, click Empty Trash now.
Be sure to regularly check your Junk folders for emails that can be deleted.
Section 3: When Creating a Message, What Can I Do to Help Ensure It Will Be Properly Managed?
Do you need it?
Before creating an email message, consider whether it needs to be created:
- Can other modes of communication be used more efficiently or effectively?
- Is it necessary to create and send “information only” emails?
- Could this information be shared on a collaborative workspace such as SharePoint or Slack?
- Is it necessary to CC all of the listed recipients?
- Do you need to reply? Avoid replying to messages you receive unless a reply is actually required.
Be objective in the content of your email. Remember that email is subject to public information requests and may be accessed during litigation or audits. Create each email as if it were being published on the front page of the Seattle Times.
One subject per message
Try to limit the content in each email message to one subject. If there are several unrelated subjects to discuss, send individual emails for each subject. The messages will be easier to track, find, use, and eventually delete.
It is important to be objective and accurate in choosing the subject heading. Subject lines should be clear, concise, and closely articulate the purpose or action requested in your email.
Stick to the subject when forwarding
When forwarding email, review the original subject line and ensure it applies to your response. Too often, people continue to use a string of email messages with the same subject line, even though the topic of the messages has changed. This makes it difficult to properly categorize email messages for deletion.
When replying or forwarding messages, you can choose to not include the original message. At the top of your email inbox click File > Options > Mail > Replies and Forwards to view options. (Outlook 2016)
Section 4: What Do I Do With All My Email?
Once you open an email message, decide what you are going to do with it before you close it.
- Can the information be found elsewhere, such as on an internal/external website, collaborative web tool, or network drive? Is it a newsletter, acknowledgement, notification, or alert? Does the email request or provide routine information? All of these types of emails can be deleted as soon as you no longer need it for reference. For most UW employees, 70-80% of emails meet these criteria and do not need to be kept beyond reference purpose.
- If you can respond or take specific action in two minutes or less – do it. File it in a folder, respond, make a call, etc.
- Email messages requesting information or an action are not always directed to the appropriate person. After reading a message determine whether you need to respond to it, or whether it you should delegate it to someone who is better placed to respond to it.
- If a response or specific action will take more than two minutes of dedicated time – defer it. If you use Outlook, you have the ability to flag emails for follow-up, label them, and add them to your Tasks list. These tools can help you find them later so that you can determine whether action is still required. Learn more about how to use these Outlook tools
- Create folders that are logically aligned with the way in which business is conducted for your office such as projects, transactions, standing meetings, budgets, and employees (refer to Section 5).
Section 5: How Do I Manage the Email I Have to Keep?
Manage Emails by Folders
Email folder titles should be clear, concise, and relate directly to the emails that will reside in the folder. Once the project or function is completed, you may add the retention period to the folder title for easy future cleanup.
Separate transitory email
In order to keep your inbox clean, delete transitory messages as soon as you no longer need them for reference. Any transitory emails you may need to keep for a limited amount of time can be moved to a folder that is purged regularly - you can use Outlook's automated retention to purge this folder after a specified period of time.
Cc: Yourself and purge your Sent Mail
To help manage sent mail, CC: yourself on messages which must be kept manage them with your other incoming mail. Your sent mail folder will then contain only duplicates and messages of transitory value, and can be purged regularly.
Perform regular cleanups
Even if you manage to always stay on top of deleting your transitory messages, the emails you save in folders will also eventually exceed their usefulness. Going through your email periodically and purging messages that are past retention helps you keep track of what is most important and reduces the University’s liability. It provides an opportunity to address those transitory messages that may have slipped through the cracks of your daily cleanups as well.
Use Search and Sort Functions
Search and sort functions are useful for locating and grouping specific messages that have characteristics in common. You can search for emails to or from an individual, by date, subject, and keywords in the body.
To search in Outlook, click on the folder you would like to search, enter the search term in the search box and press the return key. Outlook’s search options also allow you to search all folders and include the Deleted Items folder in your search. You can access more options by clicking the Search tab at the top of your screen. (Outlook 2016)
Don't Use Email - Collaborate Via the Web
Consider using an online collaboration tool such as Slack, MS Teams, SharePoint, or Google Docs for projects/meetings rather than using email. These tools compile all the information, written and received, by its users in one location. All notes, drafts, conversation, and meeting minutes may be stored on the tool. Remember that information stored on web collaboration tools are subject to public records requests, audits, and litigation and must be retained and later deleted as per an approved retention schedule.
Section 6: What Are My Responsibilities as a Manager?
If you are a manager:
- Schedule a quarterly or yearly records cleanup time for your office.
- Include records management responsibilities in your office's new employee checklist.
- Establish an office procedure for setting up email accounts that allows access to email by other(s) in the office in case of absence.
- Establish general email protocols which ensure that everyone in the office is using the same email platform and managing their email in the same way.
When an employee separates from employment:
In accordance with UW policy, managers and/or administrators are responsible for managing records associated with separated employees - this includes email.
- The employee and their manager or administrator should develop a plan for determining which emails must be kept and which may be deleted (refer to Section 1).
- Email that must be kept should be transferred to another employee or stored in a centralized location, such a network drive or SharePoint site.