Knowing what email retention is and what laws surround this concept has become an inevitable part of running a growing business. Regardless of the industry or niche your company operates in, making sure your IT department is properly archiving your emails and keeping certain messages and data accessible – and for appropriate periods of time – can be of crucial importance in case your business faces legal issues.
Although the email archiving process can be a tedious and often cumbersome one, especially if tackled manually and without proper tools, it is nevertheless a task that needs to be performed on a regular basis.
Why Email Retention?
Not only is it handy and a good “just in case” practice, it is also necessary and required by federal, state and industry email retention laws.
As it is usually the case with similar laws, email retention periods tend to vary in different countries and can depend on the industry your organization belongs to. They are tailored according to the laws and regulations specific to various business functions, industry and geo location, which is why they have been changed quite a few times over the last several decades.
However, current retention laws do oblige modern businesses and organizations to be capable of quickly executing a legal hold on their archived email messages and provide access to data should any legal action processes require it.
If, for any reason, a business fails to comply with current email retention laws, it may result in serious penalties, sanctions, and other issues that can cause unnecessary costs and – even worse – hurt the company’s reputation.
Current EU Email Retention Laws
Back in 2018, the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) brought new requirements and updates that affect many organizations across the continent, including new laws related to email retention.
Namely, the companies whose workflow involves gathering and/or processing of any personal data belonging to EU citizens were required to implement precautionary measures in order to protect their personal information. This provided the citizens of the EU with newfound rights over their personal data.
So, what does that mean for email retention?
As the data located within a company’s emails may also be subject to retention in order to comply with the new laws, especially with organizations operating in industries like healthcare and finance that feature industry-specific legislation email retention provisions, it is extremely important for your business to take care of this matter in a timely manner.
As for how long you should be keeping your emails archived, the GDPR currently doesn’t stipulate any minimum/maximum period of time. However, the GDPR does state that any personal data can be archived i.e. “kept in a form that allows an individual to be identified for no longer than necessary to achieve the purpose for which personal data were collected or processed. The GDPR allows personal data to be processed for archiving purposes.”
As an email protection best practice, it is recommended for businesses to use encryption and store their valuable and sensitive data in a safe environment where it will be both protected and easily accessed when necessary. The most widely used method for these purposes are various email archiving solutions available to companies across the globe.
Quick Tips on Keeping Your Email Records in Compliance:
1. Create Your Own Email Retention Policy
Be sure to create your own policy as that way you won’t leave any potential legal issues to chance. It is not best practice to leave email management up to your employees (however methodical or conscientious they may be) as they may not be able to retrieve it due to accidental deletion or some other similar scenario.
2. Be Careful With Deleting Your Emails
Be sure to talk to your employees and tell them not to delete any emails that may need to be retrieved at some point in the future for whatever reason, so ensure that your policy contains strict guidelines in terms of business email deletion.
3. Set Proper Retention Periods
As we mentioned above, retention periods may vary from country to country and also depend on the department and document type, so we recommend seeking legal advice for this step. It is also advised to set these periods to longer than it is legally recommended, just to always be on the safe side.
4. Consistency Matters
Make sure you apply all the necessary rules throughout all your departments and company levels. Email retention policies work best when implemented across an entire company and all areas of a business. This is why consistency is crucial. If the policy is not applied throughout some of your departments and those emails are not retained consistently with other business sections, all the previous effort can easily be rendered unnecessary.
5. Educate Your Employees and Keep Them Up to Date
Both during the implementation process and after you have your email retention policy properly set up, it is important to educate your staff members about the relevance of this practice, as well keep them up to date with all the potential changes that may take place in the future. Be sure that all employees get the new retention rules and learn why these rules are to be followed. Perhaps a simple handbook containing all the retention policy rules is not a bad idea, especially for new employees.
6. Make Sure Your Email Retention Policy is Effectively Monitored
Once you have all the teams and departments in your workforce practicing the policy rules, you would want to be sure it stays that way and that all the necessary rules are being followed. A great way to do that is to deploy an email retention monitoring system across sections and individuals in your company. You can perhaps assign these tasks to certain managers throughout your departments.
It is of crucial importance that your organization takes proper care of all email retention and archiving tasks so you can be well prepared should you face any legal issues in the future. You should always be capable of accessing pertinent data and providing detailed records of shared data, communications channels, as well as transactions that have taken place between your clients, employees, and other individuals involved.
Are all your departments currently able to access this data within a specific timeframe and easily fetch the records regarding a particular issue?
Bio: Damian is a business consultant and a freelance blogger from New York. He writes about the latest tech solutions and marketing insights. Follow him on Twitter for more articles.