Four records retention myths that may be hurting your organization

Posted by TAB on

Pardon the pun, but TAB isn’t shy about sounding like a broken record. Whenever records management issues are discussed, we always remind our clients about the importance of having RM fundamentals in place. This includes a records retention schedule that is appropriate to the records involved and consistently applied over time. Unfortunately, too many organizations fall short of this standard by failing to apply the correct retention periods to records.

Why? The main culprit is a set of widespread myths about records retention. Unfortunately, these myths continue to “make the rounds”, causing many organization to make the wrong choices about how long to retain records and other documents.

Four myths to watch out for.

The risks and business consequences of a poor retention schedule are very real. These include: penalties for non-compliance with recordkeeping requirements; increased risk of litigation and expensive discovery processes; inefficient business processes and excessive storage costs.

So, if any of these myths are guiding your organization’s policies for document and records retention, it’s time to put them to rest and update your records retention schedules now!

Myth 1: Retention schedules only apply to paper records.

Fact: A record is a record, regardless of medium or format. Email messages and electronic documents are all potentially records, and need to be retained whenever they provide evidence of business transactions.

Myth 2: We have to keep everything for 7 years.

Fact: The legislated or recommended retention periods are different for different types of records. In some cases, that may be less than seven years, and in others it may be more. Consulting the applicable legislation and industry standards is the best way to apply accurate, record-specific retention periods.

Myth 3: We have to keep everything forever.

Fact: As with myth 2, the correct retention period varies between different record types. Another key fact is that keeping records forever not only adds a burden to your storage requirements, it exposes you to legal risk. If a record is found during a legal discovery process, it is still eligible to be used as evidence, even if it was retained past the required period. To paraphrase from the Miranda rights: any records you retain can and will be used against you in a court of law!

Myth 4: Old records = archival records.

Fact: Not all “old” records are worthy of archival status, which is generally used to protect and preserve historically significant records for future generations. The key is to clearly establish which records are worthy of archival status, and dispose of the rest, which would otherwise take up space and incur unneeded costs.

Having the right retention schedule is not about getting a gold star for records management (though many of us deserve that!). The right retention schedules help to preserve the rights of an organization, enable its efficient operation, and protect it from various forms of risk. So let’s all do our part for the greater RM good and put those myths to rest whenever they crop up!

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