A records retention schedule is the cornerstone of an
effective records management program. It is a policy
document that defines an organization's legal and compliance
recordkeeping requirements. A company implements
a records retention schedule in order to ensure
that its records are kept as long as legally and operationally
required and that obsolete records are disposed
of in a systematic and controlled manner. The records
retention schedule is intended to ensure that employees
adhere to approved recordkeeping requirements, and
that they do so consistently.
The Importance of A Retention Schedule
Records retention schedules serve as a company's legal
authority to retain and purge records and, therefore, hold
great importance for a company. The records retention
schedule captures all of the types of records created and
used by a company in the course of its business and indicates
how long these records are required to be retained.
A retention schedule needs to be developed and applied
in a systematic manner, as part of a company's corporate-
wide records management strategy. Both development
and implementation of a retention schedule are
important elements in establishing a "good faith" effort
and ensuring a sound records management program.
Risks Of Not Having A Retention Schedule
As the volume of retained business records expands, so
do the associated risks of not having a retention schedule.
Establishing how long to retain records requires the
development and implementation of a credible records
retention policy. Irregularity or inconsistency in a company's
records program or the absence of a credible records
management program can splinter outsiders' assumptions
of good faith. Absent a viable reason, keeping
records for longer or shorter times than guidelines dictate
exposes a company to unnecessary risk.
The more information a business retains, the greater the
burden of identifying and locating records when needed
for reference purposes and legal compliance.Without a
records management program with indexing capabilities,
the effort of locating required documents can be
immense. Risk exists if a company is not able to locate all
seemingly relevant records and unintentionally withholds
Through the successful development and implementation
of a records retention schedule, businesses can realize
the following benefits:
- Improve the overall utilization of resources
- Control the unrestrained growth of records volume
- Demonstrate compliance with statutory and regulatory recordkeeping requirements
- Enforce the consistent implementation of recordkeeping policies
- Improve the ability to locate and retrieve records when required
- Reduce litigation risks
A retention schedule organizes a company's records in
categories called record classes—groupings of records
that support similar business processes and that have
related legal and operational retention requirements.
Creating record classes allows a company to apply consistent
retention practices to similar types of records.
Each record class consists of a description of the process
the records support and examples of the types of records
that fall under the record class. A retention period or rule
is associated with each record class. A retention period
may be stated in terms of months or years, or may be
expressed as contingent upon the occurrence of an
event such as the termination of a contract or conclusion
of a project. The retention schedule is accompanied by
comprehensive legal research that documents current
legal recordkeeping requirements and considerations.
Iron Mountain Recommendations
Overall, organizations are advised to drive towards consistency in every aspect of retention management.
Other important considerations to make when developing a records retention schedule are:
Implement A Universal Retention Schedule
A company should implement a universal retention schedule for all business units. The retention schedule
should be structured around a classification scheme that categorizes "like" records into broader
groupings to facilitate consistency and manageability.
Document Retention Periods
The retention periods within the retention schedule should reflect the longer of the legal and operational
value of the records. The justification for the retention periods, legal or operational, should be documented.
In the case of a legal authority, the legal citations should be maintained on file.
Schedule Records for Destruction
Users should be discouraged from calculation of the specific destruction dates for individual records due
to the likelihood of inconsistency. Rather, a proper records management system can calculate the actual
retention dates by having users assign a standard records classification code and having a records management
systems calculate the destruction date using the combination of the retention schedule within
the system and the creation date of the records.
A retention schedule and policy should be viewed as dynamic.The retention schedule should be reviewed
periodically (approximately every 18 to 24 months) to determine the impact of legal changes upon retention
periods. Also, the records classification scheme should be updated to reflect changes in the company's
business and hence their records.
Package and Rollout
A retention schedule needs to be inculcated into a company as a way of life. It should be packaged, rolledout
and made accessible as part of a company's common infrastructure. The parameters of the retention
schedule as well as the records management program should be communicated frequently and thoroughly
within the organization.