This is a work related post, but it relates to something that anyone with a small business should be aware of: agreements made via email.
ARMA’s (an international organization for records managers) Nov/Dec issue of their Information Management magazine had a few interesting articles, but a short one about email signatures stood out for me.
This article discussed a recent court ruling in the U.S. that said that “signing your name to an email is comparable to signing a printed document.” There’s a whole lot behind this decision, but what it comes down to is that the justice system (in the States, at least) is starting to recognize emails as official records of agreements. If you send an email agreeing to something and include your signature*, that’s good enough and you may not need a piece of paper with your wet (“real”) signature.
Of course, there are some cases where policies or legislation dictate otherwise (for example, life insurance companies may require wet signatures). But, we’re moving towards email agreements being enough.
Really, we’ve been moving towards this, anyway. People seem to regard agreements made via email as being very much like verbal agreements, but with proof. A lot of people already think agreements made over email are official. But, now the courts are, too. And, that’s really important because it means that you could be held to your promises, regardless of whether you signed an official contract, or not.
Not to say that you need to start being really paranoid about what you agree to in emails. If you have a small business, make a decision about what will or will not be acceptable and document it. Then make the document available to your customers and be clear about things in email (ex: mentioning that the decision isn’t official until documents are signed). Having a policy is good, but totally worthless if it isn’t documented and having a documented policy that you can point back to is worth its weight in gold.
*The article wasn’t clear if “signature” meant just typing your name or including a full business signature with contact information, etc.