Jul 12, 2010 QuickCounsel Download PDF
By Iron Mountain
Records retention is one of the most important areas of a records management program. The process of records retention ensures that records are kept as long, as legally and operationally required, and that obsolete records are disposed of in a systematic and controlled manner. A legally compliant records retention schedule allows an organization to be compliant, manage intellectual property, control the costs of information storage, locate and retrieve documents for legal discovery, and dispose of records at the end of their business life.
The Importance of a Records 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. Not having a retention schedule may result in increased litigation exposure by retaining records longer than legally required and/or delayed response and inaccuracies to eDiscovery requests and regulatory investigations.
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.
A retention schedule organizes a company's records in categories called record classes or records series-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.
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:
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