Public Records Act

Last updated: September 5, 2014

UW faculty and staff should keep the following five points in mind with respect to RCW 42.56, the Washington State Public Records Act:

1. Almost every communication is a public record.

  • Public records can be in many forms, not just paper documents.
  • A public record is considered to be information and data—regardless of physical format or characteristic—used, created or maintained in the conduct of government.
  • Each record has a legally required retention schedule. The record’s custodian is responsible for assuring that the records comply with the retention schedule. More information about retention schedules may be found at
  • Types of public records include emails, text messages, tweet and Facebook postings, photos, calendars, audio and video recordings, databases and sticky notes.

The law applies to records related to the conduct of government, regardless of where they are stored.

2. Most records may be disclosed.

The scope of the Public Records Act is broad:

  • Any record — or any part — that is not specifically exempt may be disclosed.
  • Records that may be exempted include those for student records, patient records, research records, employees’ personal address and telephone number, and attorney-client privileged records.
  • The UW values transparency.

3. Keep informal communications offline.

Informal communications can be easily misunderstood, such as the following:

  • Casual emails
  • Attempted humor
  • Speculation
  • Unprofessional discussions about people and situations
  • Personnel matters

4. When there is a records request: (a) Do search. (b) Don’t delete.

  • Most large penalties related to the Public Records Act are the result of inadequate initial efforts to find and produce requested records and to subsequent inadequate efforts to provide the requested records.
  • Again, all records have a retention schedule required by RCW 40.14, the Preservation and Destruction of Public Records Act.
  • No records may be destroyed that are responsive to a public records request.

5. Rely on the UW Public Records and Open Meetings Office.

The UW Public Records and Open Meetings Office is the statutory authority that oversees compliance with the public records law. That office will help you comply with the law.

  • That office knows the processes and rules.
  • Forward records requests to that office.
  • Turn over the records you find to that office.
  • Be open and candid with that office so they can help.

More information