Records retention schedules: understanding the requirements

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Organisations must go beyond on the basics and fully understand the types of legal requirements involved in a retention schedule and make sure they have been thoroughly analysed.

28 October 20167 mins
Records management KPIs

Most enterprises have a basic understanding of the importance of records retention schedules. They know that this schedule defines the organisation's legal and compliance requirements when it comes to accessing, retaining and disposing of the records. Furthermore, they understand that a solid retention schedule reduces storage volume, costs and the risks of data breach exposure. However, organisations must go beyond on the basics and fully understand the types of legal requirements involved in a retention schedule and make sure they have been thoroughly analysed.

Fundamentals of a records retention schedule

A records retention schedule is the cornerstone of an effective records management programme. It is a policy document that defines an organisation'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.

Specific retention periods

Government, legal, financial and other highly-regulated organisations must abide by certain local and European mandates regarding the records retention period. The extent of the legal mandates, the relevancy of the legal mandates to the organisation and which records are affected by the legal mandates must be determined. In some instances, certain records may have a period of liability or a statute of limitations. For business records, the retention period may only be lengthened in order to reflect the operational requirements of the organisation. However, they can never be shortened. The reason for the retention period extension should be documented so that an organisation can properly defend the reasoning and avoid the tendency to retain documents just in case.

Nonspecific retention periods

Some legal mandates do not list a specific retention period and the organisation is not specifically informed on the length of the records retention. It could be weeks, months, years or permanently. In this case, many providers and attorneys assume the records are to be retained on a permanent basis when that may not be the case. This is because there is not a clear indication of when the records are to be disposed of. Clearly, specific retention periods are more effective when applied correctly.

No specific retention mandate found

In some instances, no specific mandates regarding records retention or records maintenance are discovered after diligent analysis. As with nonspecific retention periods, one may develop long-lasting retention periods or assume the retention is permanent.

Limitations of actions

This is not necessarily a records retention mandate, but it does denote the period during which an organisation may be involved in court proceedings. Some records may be valuable during litigation in order to pursue legal action as the plaintiff or as a defence as the defendant. This is more in line with legal strategies instead of legal requirements, but it does directly relate to records retention.

Records retention reviews

There are occasional business and legal changes that may or may not affect a retention schedule. This is why it is crucial to review records retention schedules and update them regularly in order to determine any effects of updated laws and regulations.

Understanding the legal requirements of a records retention schedule is just a part of developing and maintaining a successful and fully compliant records management programme. Some records management vendors can guide an organisation through retention scheduling and assist them in understanding the legal requirements involved. Find out how Iron Mountain Professional Services can help.

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