National Letter of Intent Signing Day: Isn’t an E-Signature Enough?

Posted by Kenneth N. Winkler on

Wednesday February 5, 2014, is the official National Signing Day for college football.  This is the day that high school football prospects sign letters of intent officially declaring where they will be attending college.  Essentially, it is the high school equivalent of the NFL draft.

During this past week I read some interesting articles about the National Signing Day.  Several of the articles that caught my attention discussed the logistics involved in securing letters of intent   One article, for example, reported that many schools in the SEC still use fax machines on signing day to receive letters of intent.

It’s surprising that with technological advances, the news coverage of the National Signing Day is anything more than video showing high school students across the country pressing buttons on their mobile devices to send electronic confirmation to their chosen university.   This is especially true because the NCAA accepts electronic signatures.  Nonetheless, most students and schools seem more comfortable relying on pen, paper and a fax machine.

In the legal profession, the use of electronic and fax signatures is becoming more common.   Typically, legal documents such as separation agreements, releases and settlement agreements expressly permit the use of electronic or faxed signatures. 

For employers, the use of electronic signatures in the workplace can be enticing, because it can be more efficient to secure electronic signatures than obtain and store handwritten signatures from employees.   Using electronic signatures also can reduce paper.   The adoption of the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act (“UETA”) in most states and the passage of the Electronics in Global and National Commerce Act (“ESIGN”) validates the use of electronic signatures and establishes that electronic signatures have the same legal effect as handwritten signatures.   Employers should be cautioned, however, that the UETA requires employers to obtain the consent and authorization of their employees to give legal effect to electronic signatures.

Despite the passage of UETA and ESIGN, there are certain documents and agreements that are so important that an employer may still prefer to have them signed “old school” to avoid any potential legal challenges based on authenticity or lack of consent. These include non-competition agreements, employment agreements, arbitration agreements, employee handbook acknowledgment forms and time records.