9 Common Mistakes When Creating a Document Retention Policy

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A document retention policy is imperative for any company. It offers a guideline to employees, indicating how documents are to be handled within the organization. This is a significant policy and it can pose a problem if it is not well structured and effectively implemented. In such situations, organizations can lose access to critical information or become subjected to the pitfalls of casually deleting files that can ultimately become the subject of litigation. These issues can be evaded by avoiding the common mistakes that many organizations make when creating and implementing a retention policy. 

The following list should help you avoid some of the most common mistakes.

  1. No Clear Definition of What a “Document” or “Record” Is

Documents that are to be retained are often referred to as “records”. To ensure that everyone in your organization understands clearly what a document or record is, there must be an explicit definition. This will let employees know which materials must be retained and which can be immediately discarded. The documents we are referring to can include, contracts, claims, emails, invoices and other forms of written or electronic communication. Clearly identifying all of the relevant documents in your policy will offer clarity and limit surprises.

  1. Forgetting to Classify Documents and Indicate Retention Period

In any company, there is always an abundance of documents. If your policy does not identify each document type and your retention policy for each, your team will be forced to make up their own retention rules. This will inevitably lead confusion and to the same documents being retained differently. Clearly identify every document type, i.e., contracts, email, etc., and variations within those types. Expressing how long each type of document is to be kept is critical.

  1. No Legal Supervisor and Non-Compliance with Local Laws

According to certain laws, specific documents are required to be held for a particular period of time. Ignorance of these laws and regulations does not protect you from the consequences of not adhering to these requirements. Ensure that the rules governing these documents are well defined and that these documents are accessible and differentiated from other documents. Also, be sure to appoint an individual that can ensure compliance with the retention policy, as this individual will also need to address practices and explain them during litigation if the need arises.

  1. Dismissing the Need for a Litigation Hold Policy

The worst thing is to be in the process of an investigation and not have a requested document. This will raise concern and place your company under further examination. It is much better to have a record ready than not to have it at all as many interpret the deletion as the action of a guilty party.  Be sure to have a rule in place that specifies litigation holds and a process or system in place to support them The documents related to the matter will need to be safely held until the matter is fully resolved.

  1. No Explicit Outline for Terminating Documents

Indicating strategically how each document is to be destroyed is critical. This will provide clarity to your staff. It will also offer clarity during a potential investigation. It will indicate precisely how and by whom documents are to be destroyed. Defining who will perform the destruction is also critical.

  1. No Regular Review or Revision Process for the Policy

As important as it is to have a retention policy, it is also essential to have a timeframe for when the policy will be regularly reviewed by chief officers. By doing so, amendments can be made that reflect changing technology, costs, and use of certain documents in the company as well as any changes in regulations.

  1. Ensure Employees Understand the Policy Completely

To ensure the efficacy of the retention policy, be sure to have an appointed representative educate employees. If not communicated, members of your organization will have difficulty understanding it and abiding by it.

  1. Overly Complicated Retention Policy

If most of the members of your organization do not understand your policy because it is too complicated, you will have a great deal of difficulty getting them to follow it. Simplify your policy as much as possible. Include language that everyone can understand and leverage the terminology and classifications commonly used by the organization whenever possible. During training, look for areas that are unclear or appear to conflict and adjust accordingly.

  1. Undefined or Poorly Defined Retention Periods

If you need to retain a document for 7 years, you must know when the timer starts. Companies often overlook this guidance in their policies. Does the timer start the day the document was created? The day a related product was last produced? The day a related product was last sold? When the document was officially released? There are many different factors that can determine when the retention period starts. Make sure that your policy provides guidance on this topic for each type of document.

When it comes to a document retention policy, it is important that your policy is thorough. Avoid these mistakes and instead adopt their solutions to ensure that your procedures for document retention are distinctive and accurate. The experts at CASNET can help you navigate the process when it comes to creating a quality document retention policy.

Contact us today to learn more.

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