A records retention schedule is a critical aspect of an effective records management program. This document is a guide or directive which lays out the recordkeeping requirements for an organization. Generally, the record retention schedule incorporates the legal and company-defined requirements. With the help of this schedule, a company ensures that all documents will be kept for records as per the legal and operational requirements. Moreover, any obsolete documents will only be discarded as per defined procedure and protocol. The aim of the records retention schedule is to make sure that employees adhere to the requirements of approved recordkeeping, and also that the protocols are always complied with.

Why is a Retention Schedule Important?

Records retention schedules layout a company’s authority to retain or discard records. Therefore, they hold great significance for any company. Through this directive, a company indicates for how long it holds and retains all kinds of records that it creates or utilizes during its course of business. The development and application of a retention schedule is a systematic process required for a company’s corporate-wide records management strategy, and also by regulatory bodies. In order to extend ‘good faith’, and as a practical measure for an effective data management program, it is of paramount importance that a company develops and implements an effective retention schedule.

What are the risks of not having a retention schedule?

The risks attached to not having an effective retention schedule increase as the volume of business records expand. In order to layout the duration for which records have to be retained, it is important to first develop and implement an effective records retention policy. An absence of a retention schedule does not only affect the level of trust being invested with a company but can also lead to legal repercussions. Without a sound reason, if a company violates the duration of holding records, it becomes vulnerable to unnecessary extrinsic as well as intrinsic risks.

As a load of records grows, the needs and requirements for managing and retaining them also increase. While searching and locating a required document, in the absence of effective indexing, an increased effort and resources are allocated, which can be otherwise avoided. If a company is unable to find and locate all relevant records, or if it keeps records for a longer period than it is legally required to, it is exposing itself to major risks.

Benefits of Records retention Schedule Development and Implementation

Other than legal compliance, a company can benefit a great deal by records retention schedule development and implementation. An effective retention schedule helps improve the overall allocation and utilization of resources, and also controls the ever-growing volume of records making it efficient to search and locate a particular record. It is mandatory for compliance with statutory and regulatory recordkeeping requirements and hence ensures that legal requirements are being adhered to. With an effective retention schedule, a company can implement consistent policies for recordkeeping while improving record location and retrieval when required. The best part of the record retention schedule is its ability to reduce and even eliminate litigation risks.

Structural Elements

An effective record retention schedule comprises classes that basically aim at creating categories of a company’s records. The classes divide data into groups. Each group contains similar business processes or documents with the same legal or operational requirements. Due to this grouping, a company does not have to implement the same policies on different records. They can simply apply consistent retention practices to the same block or group of records because the requirements of that class are the same.

Under each record class, a description of those processes is given which this record supports. It also states those examples which fall under the category. Each recorded class has a defined retention period or rule. The retention period can be the number of months or years, or it can be the active or terminated state of a contract or project. The retention schedule is formulated in light of organizational and legal requirements and considerations for recordkeeping.

During a records retention schedule development and implementation, there are some important considerations you must bear in mind. Here’s a brief account of those considerations:

1.      Implement a Universal Retention Schedule

An effective retention schedule should be universal in nature. This means it should cover all aspects and business units of a company. It must be structured around a classification scheme that groups and categorizes similar records into broad classes to ensure quicker access, efficient manageability, and consistency.

2.      Document Retention Periods

During retention schedule development, the company must mention the retention periods for documents. This will indicate the duration for which an organization intends to hold records for legal and operational matters. The reason behind holding records, i-e legal or operational, for a specified period of time must be documented. In the case of legal authority, the legal citations should be maintained on file.

3.      Schedule Records for Discarding

It is critically important to discourage users from making calculations for discarding a record or simply disposing of records on their own, as it can lead to inconsistency and even expose records to risks. You can seek data governance services or even an efficient records management system can calculate schedule periods based on the standard records classification code. Let the data management system calculate the destruction date based on the data available to it while utilizing the inbuilt calculating system.

4.      Review Periodically

A records retention schedule should not be static; rather this policy should be dynamic. The scheduling policy must be reviewed periodically so as to identify if it required any changes in the light of changed legal policies or organizational changes. Ideally, the policy should be reviewed after every 18 to 24 months. Moreover, if the business has gone through any major changes or has expanded itself over the period of time that has to be incorporated in policy formulation which can be reflected in the records retention schedule.

5.      Package and Rollout

A retention records schedule should be an inherent and mandatory part of the company’s procedures. The policy should be available and accessible as the company’s common infrastructure. In case of any changes, the revised policy and the changes should be communicated to all stakeholders of the organization.

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