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Non-Fitchburg State Owned Email Retention Policy and Procedures

At Fitchburg State University, email is already archived automatically on the University-owned system to comply with these guidelines. Following this document is only necessary if you use another email system, such as Gmail, Live Mail, MobileMe, etc., during the course of your University duties.


To establish consistent guidelines and policy for preserving email records as required by the Public Records Law, Statewide Retention Schedule and other applicable laws and to ensure that emails are accessible if subject to a public records request or a discovery request as part of a court action.


All email records sent and received during the course of your responsibilities may, depending on their content, be Public Records as defined by M.G.L. c. 4, §7, cl. 26th, and should not be deleted except in accordance with this policy. Emails that are Public Records must be saved by the custodian or keeper of that Public Record to a permanent electronic record system (i.e., saved in an email archive file) and preserved in accordance with the current Statewide Records Retention Schedule (PDF). The contextual or "envelope" information [metadata] included with an email, which contains the mailing address, date/time stamp, routing instructions and transmission and receipt information constitutes part of the email and must be retained as part of any printed or electronically stored version of the email.

It is the content of the email and not the type of media on which it is stored that determines how long it must be retained.

If, under the guidelines published in this policy, you are the custodian or keeper of an email, you must preserve that email, unless it is not required to be preserved under the retention schedule. In general, you are the custodian of: (a) all business emails you send, and (b) business emails you receive if you are one of the primary recipients of the email or you are the only one receiving it within your agency. If you are simply copied on an email sent to another employee of your agency, you are not the custodian or keeper of that email, and are not generally required to retain the email. Exceptions may exist in connection with litigation or other legal disputes, where you should comply with any instructions you receive from agency counsel or the Attorney General's Office to retain records even if you are not the custodian or keeper of the email under these guidelines.

The following guidelines are included to assist you in determining what must be retained.


How do I know whether I am required to preserve a particular email?

If an email is sent or received during the course of your responsibilities and deals with business of your office, it is likely to be a "Public Record," and therefore must be retained in accordance with the relevant retention schedule. You should consult your agency attorney if you have a question regarding the Public Records law.

If you are an executive, you have a greater obligation to preserve certain documents, as noted below. Executives are defined under the Statewide Records Retention Schedule as "elected officials, commissioners, agency heads, and the persons with delegated authority to act on their behalf."

There are some categories of emails that do not have to be retained under the Statewide Records Retention Schedule after their administrative use has ceased, and, if properly deleted, do not need to be produced as public records or in response to a discovery request. A person responsible for arranging a work-related event or creating a policy should preserve the documents related to those actions. The following is a list of some of the types of emails that ordinarily do not need to be retained and can be deleted from your email:

  • Program transitory correspondence encountered in the daily administration of the unit and its programs, including acknowledgments, courtesy correspondence, declined invitations, meeting announcements, scheduling changes
  • Documents scheduling meetings, travel, appointments and events, including calendars and related lists and postings unless they relate to activities of executives or persons in policy-making positions.
  • Out-of-office replies
  • Thank you messages
  • Personal messages unrelated to state agency business, including information regarding non-business related activities of the department
  • Communications regarding routine office policies and procedures, such as handling mail, opening hours, storm coverage
  • Duplicate messages/attachments, as described below
  • Junk mail or spam
  • Published reference materials collected from sources outside the agency
  • Replies to routine questions and information requests – for example, address and hours open, requests for forms
  • Incoming listserv messages
  • Media advisories, news and press releases and web announcements sent for informational purposes unless you were involved in the drafting or review of these documents
  • Emails sent to another employee in your department, with a copy sent to you as long as you are not the custodian or keeper of that email as described below.
  • Reports, meeting minutes and publications that are distributed to you for your convenience as a member of a group or committee and are not needed to support other files. If the group has a secretary or record keeper maintaining copies, you do not need to keep an additional copy.

If an email is not on this list, you should check with your agency counsel or consult the Statewide Retention Schedule. Employees are encouraged to become familiar with the retention requirements that apply to their particular responsibilities. The schedule is arranged by subject matter and will tell you how long the email should be kept, based on its content. If the schedule provides that the record may be destroyed "after administrative use ceases," the record may be deleted after that time. If the schedule requires a specific number of years for retention, the record cannot be destroyed until a written request is submitted to and approved by the Records Conservation Board.

How do I recognize a duplicate email?

An email that is a copy of an original email with the same message content and attachments is a duplicate that may be deleted. An email in a multiple email "thread", where participants have responded to each other several times with the previous messages included need not be kept as long as a later message in the same thread is retained.

Which emails, for which I am the custodian or keeper, do I need to preserve?

  • Any email record for which the Statewide Retention Schedule requires retention for an established time period (in general, emails concerning agency business) or about which you are unsure (that is, err on the side of retention if you are unsure);
  • Emails subject to or likely to be subject to a dispute, audit, investigation, or litigation, or subject to other legal retention requirements, regardless of whether you think they are Public Records. You should consult your agency attorney if you have any question as to whether a particular email is relevant to an ongoing dispute, investigation or litigation.

Do I have to save the entire email?

Yes. Email Public Records must include the "metadata" (sender, time sent, text, date sent, subject lines, recipients), the message, and any attachments. Saving your email in the same format the original email is in will preserve the original metadata.

Where should I store my emails?

Store your emails in an email archive. You should not retain emails in your regular inbox. This is a transitory storage area.

You may choose to print certain of these emails for your review and use and file them in your paper files. If you keep a paper copy you do not have to preserve the email; however, you must retain the metadata as well.


For any university business conducted via email, trustees should CC: or BCC: This email account isn’t monitored and instead just ensures a copy of the message is archived according to state law.


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