Email is increasingly being cited as primary evidence in high-profile discrimination, sexual harassment, and antitrust legal claims, according to research.
According to a study conducted by the American Management Association, The ePolicy Institute and security vendor Clearswift, last year 14 per cent of firms were ordered by a court or regulatory body to produce employee email - a figure up from nine per cent two years ago.
The research found that, in spite of growing scrutiny from courts and regulators, most employers are doing a poor job of managing email business records and are unprepared for the likelihood of email discovery.
Only 34 per cent of employers currently have a written email retention and deletion policy in place, the same figure reported in 2001, 12 months before five Wall Street brokerages were fined $8.3m (£4.9m) for failing to retain emails.
"Most employers drop the ball when it comes to educating employees about email risks, rules, and responsibilities," said Nancy Flynn, executive director of The ePolicy Institute.
"While 75 per cent of organisations have written email policies in place, only 48 per cent offer e-policy education to employees, and merely 27 per cent offer email retention/deletion training."
While 90 per cent of employers have installed software to monitor incoming and outgoing email, only 19 per cent are using technology to monitor internal email among employees, the study revealed.
"Management's failure to check internal email is a potentially costly oversight. Off-the-cuff, casual email conversations among employees are exactly the type of messages that tend to trigger lawsuits, arm prosecutors with damaging evidence, and provide the media with embarrassing real-life disaster stories," said Flynn.
"The fact that 90 per cent of respondents send and receive personal email at work, and 66 per cent of companies lack a policy for deleting nonessential messages, compounds the problem."
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