UW-Madison employees should remember that as public employees many records we create related to University business—including text messages, voicemail messages, emails, and other electronic communications—are public records. These records should be managed according to University records retention policies, and may be subject to disclosure under the Wisconsin Public Records Law.
Most work and communications are public and must be provided upon request
Most University records, including emails, are public unless they contain information that is made private by the law. Examples of such private information includes student education records that are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), patient health care records or information rendered confidential by state and federal privacy law, material protected by copyright, or materials otherwise available for sale. However, many of the records produced every day by employees at this University are not protected and must be disclosed if requested. The Public Records Law is construed with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and is rare.
Communications should be conducted professionally
Your emails are likely subject to release under the public records law. Emails should be crafted with professionalism.
University business conducted on personal devices is subject to disclosure
The Wisconsin Public Records Law applies to all records reflecting an employee’s work for the University whether those records exist on your work computer and account or your personal devices and accounts. However, personal, non-work-related emails (such as “Mary, remember to pick up Johnny after school tonight”) are probably purely personal, not related to University business, and able to be withheld under the records law.
Records that have met retention should be deleted
Records held by the University or created by University employees need to be kept in accordance with records schedules. You may delete or destroy records consistent with the records retention schedule. Some records, such as transitory communications confirming the time of a meeting, need only be retained for as little as seven days.