Guidance for the Use of Electronic (Digital) Signatures at Mason

The Code of Virginia and federal law, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, permit the use of electronic signatures on contracts; however, such signatures must be unique and verifiable as they demonstrate each party’s intention to be bound to the contract terms. If electronic signatures are to be used, both parties should agree that digital or electronic signatures are acceptable, and it should be explicitly stated and agreed to in the contract language.

Contracts with External Parties

Contracts with external parties and agreements committing university funds require a high level of authentication with an appropriate audit trail. There are a limited number of university employees with signature authority for these types of transactions. Electronic signatures for these cases are acceptable if the authorized party has a valid personal digital certificate, which is an electronic file used to prove that a document or email was signed by that individual. ITS can assist units with obtaining digital certificates from approved sources (“certificate authorities”).

Additionally, submission of grant proposals often requires signatures on: cover letters to sponsors, Federal SF 424 application forms, non-federal application forms, representations and certifications, assurances, budgets, and confirmation of Authorized Organization Representative support. These signatures require university authorization/delegation as they bind the university to terms and conditions or make representations about the university. Electronic signatures for these cases are acceptable if the authorized party has a valid personal digital certificate from an approved certificate authority.

Certain post-award actions, such as prior approval requests or modifications, may require a signed request from the Authorized Organizational Representative. Further, some sponsor-required financial reports, submitted quarterly, semi-annually, or annually also require signatures. These post-award actions where the signature is certifying approval or university-approved requests may also use electronic signatures if the authorized party has a valid personal digital certificate from an approved certificate authority.

Certain documents such as lease agreements and other documents that must be notarized require actual “wet” signatures.

A simple scanned image of your signature or an electronically signed document (e.g., using Adobe Acrobat) that is not tied to a valid personal digital certificate are not acceptable substitutes for a wet signature.

Internal University Documents

Acceptance of signatures on documents supporting internal processes between Mason offices and employees is determined by the responsible office. Departments may consider Adobe stamp signatures and documents that are signed, scanned, and transmitted via a gmu.edu email address and email confirmation from a gmu.edu email address. At least one of the parties should retain the accompanying email thread for future reference and additional evidence of approval.

Electronically routing forms for approval in workflow applications is an acceptable method if the signing parties are individually authenticated using Mason accounts, and the actions are logged within the system. Examples include travel expense approvals, Banner workflow, Dynamic Forms, and similar applications in which a copy of the document and approval steps remain within the system.