Imagine going to prison because a document was found…
Imagine going to prison because a document was deleted… How can both be possible?
A business runs on communications. These communications can be e-mails, documents, contracts, proposals, memos, notes and so on. They make up the business records of an organization. Many people think that business records are only the accounting information. While accounting information is part of your overall business records, it’s not all of it.
Here’s where the problem lies. How long do you keep these records for and when can you delete them? In some instances the time required to keep business records are mandated by law. In all other instances how long you keep your records is completely up to the business itself. In addition to the records not covered by law, you also have to decide if you want to keep records required by law past the legal retention requirements.
The length of time you should keep your business records should be determined by measuring risk versus reward. Keeping records for a long time will enable your organization to look up history which may or may not be valuable for future dealings. That’s the reward. The risk is in litigation or audits. If you keep documents and are sued or audited, then those documents may be subpoenaed in the proceedings. Once your documents are subpoenaed, you’ve lost control.
Here’s the crux of the problem. You can’t decide to change your document retention policy when you are in litigation. If you do and are caught, this could lead to fines or worse…
The best course of action is in having a thought out policy for your business documents and records that satisfies all legal requirements and helps your organization. Creating this policy should be a team approach between the business side, the legal side and the records management sides of your organization. If you do not have legal or records management help, you can hire them for this purpose.
Once you have a policy in place you then have to ensure that the policy is being followed. If you delete records early you may be in violation of government rules or regulations. If you keep records beyond the time that they should have been destroyed they still can be subject to subpoena. Having the policy does not protect your organization if you don’t follow it.
So how does this all relate to wearing a prison jumpsuit? Where people wind up in trouble is when they are being audited or sued. They panic and start deleting documents and records. Even if they are suddenly complying with their own internal retention schedules, if the actions they are taking are not what happen during the normal course of business, they are destroying evidence.
To protect your organization and yourself, you need to automate your records management. With automation, the retention and destruction of documents and records are consistent. This protects you in case of an audit or lawsuit. However, your records management system must also have a hold feature in case you are ordered by the courts to retain information past their scheduled retention period.
At DocuVantage we created a complete platform for your document management, business processes and records management. All of these are related and can help organizations improve their efficiency and ensure that they are in compliance with government regulations while protecting themselves.For more information on how this works, please visit our records management page.