Text messages related to your work as a public employee are public records, even if you are using your personal cellphone to create them. This means that they are subject to public records requests, legal holds, and records retention requirements, just like any other record. And, like all records, the content and function of the text (not its format) will determine if it must be kept.
The best course of action, then, is to only use text messages for transitory messages – those that don’t need to be kept and can be deleted almost immediately. Examples of transitory messages include letting a coworker know you’re running late, asking about the status of a document, or other information that will be officially documented elsewhere.
Here is an example of a transitory text message exchange:
This message is transitory for both you and your supervisor, as the leave request you’ll submit and/or your timesheet will be the official record of your absence that day.
While messages like this don’t need to be kept, if they are kept, they will be subject to any public records request or legal hold that they are responsive to. So, generally, it is best practice to delete transitory messages once no longer needed to avoid having to retain and manage the messages indefinitely. (The exception is that if you are aware of a potential legal hold that might apply to the messages.)
Text messages that do have retention requirements include: messages containing final decisions or authorizations and (substantive) communications with customers. (If in doubt about what to keep, check the records retention schedules.) If you do need to send or receive text messages that have retention requirements, you will need to be prepared to retain them on your phone for the required retention period, or find a way to transfer the text messages to another location, like your DES email. (Most cellphones will allow you to forward text messages to an email address.)
However, to avoid having to manage text messages, the best course of action is to only use text messages for transitory records and information, and to delete messages once no longer needed.
For more information about records retention requirements, see the records retention schedules or contact the Agency Records Officer, Rachel Thompson.