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Fundamentals of Records Retention

by | Nov 9, 2021


A records retention schedule is the cornerstone of an effective information governance program. It is a policy document that defines an organization’s legal, operational, historical and compliance recordkeeping requirements, regardless of the record’s format: hardcopy, physical object, digital, audio, or video. An organization implements a records retention schedule in order to ensure that its records are kept as long as legally and operationally required and that convenience copies and 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.



A records retention schedule serves as an organization’s legal authority to retain and purge records and, holds great importance for an organization. The records retention schedule captures all of the types of records created and used by an organization 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 an organization’s corporate-wide information governance strategy. Both development and implementation of a retention schedule are important elements in establishing a “good faith” effort and ensuring a sound program.



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 an organization’s records program or the absence of a credible records management program can splinter outsiders’ assumptions of good faith, and in litigation, lead to an adverse inference or spoliation. Absent a viable reason, keeping records for longer or shorter times than guidelines dictate exposes an organization to unnecessary risk.

The more information an organization retains, the greater the burden of identifying and locating records when needed for reference purposes in the decision-making process, litigation, audits and proof of compliance.  Without a records management program with indexing capabilities, the effort of locating required documents can be immense. Risk exists if an organization is not able to locate all responsive or relevant records and unintentionally withholds required documents.

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 arranges an organization’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 organization 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, conclusion of a project or an event plus a certain number of years, such as the calculation of an I-9 form retention period. The retention schedule is accompanied by comprehensive legal research that documents current legal recordkeeping requirements and considerations.



Consistency in all aspects of retention management equals better compliance across the organization. Other important considerations to make when developing a records retention schedule are:


Implement A Universal Retention Schedule 

An organization should implement a universal retention schedule for all business units. The retention schedule should be structure around a classification scheme that categorizes “like” records into broader grouping to facilitate consistency and manageability. Manageability is key to compliance!


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 as part of the schedule. Microsoft Excel is perfect for this documentation.


Schedule Records for Destruction

Users should be discouraged from calculation of the specific destruction dates for individual records 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 system calculate the destruction date using the combination of the retention schedule within the system and the trigger date related to the record type.


Package and Rollout

A retention schedule needs to be in an organization’s information governance foundational policy. It should be rolled-out and made accessible as part of an organization’s common infrastructure. The parameters of the retention schedule as well as the information governance program should be communicated frequently within the organization.


Talk to the Experts 

Is your records retention schedule bulletproof? Are you certain records are being kept as long as legally required? Are obsolete records being disposed of properly? If these questions are still lingering in your organization, contact Western Integrated Systems and we tailor a solution that will improve access to records, reduce the risk associated with keeping certain records too long, and develop a consistent retention schedule that is aligned with your information governance strategy.



Written by WIS



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