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Records retention: Know what to keep, what’s safe to toss

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in HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Management,Records Retention

If there’s one thing all HR pros share, it’s probably a love/hate relationship with paper and paperwork.

On one hand, the mantra “Document, document, document” provides the security of knowing that HR decisions can be easily backed up with a complete and official record. On the other hand, the primary décor in many HR offices consists largely of row after row of filing cabinets.

You need good records, but you also need to get rid of them periodically.

That’s what a records-retention schedule will help you do. It ensures that an organization keeps the records it needs for operational, legal, fiscal or historical reasons, and then destroys them when they’re no longer useful.

We’ve compiled a comprehensive retention schedule for all kinds of business records—from accounting to taxation and beyond—that you can download free: “Company Records: What to Keep, What to Dump.”

Getting started

You have to know what you have and how long to keep it—legally and for your own business purposes—before you can establish an efficient records-management system. That’s why it’s important to inventory your records and draw up a company retention schedule.

Our online retention schedule reflects standard business practices. You must also consider state and local statutes of limitations as well as regulations of government agencies that pertain to your business. State retention statutes vary widely on tax, unemployment and workers’ compensation records, as well as on environmental and other requirements. Check with your state and regional authorities for details.

As an extra safeguard, have your accountant and your attorney review your records-retention timetable before putting it into practice.

Timetable tips

When considering how long to retain records, keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t be a “just in case” hoarder. Store records only for legal, operational or archival reasons.
  • Retain and destroy documents systematically.
  • Segment records according to a retention timetable.
  • Don’t retain unscheduled temporary materials, such as drafts, reminder notes, work sheets or extra copies.
  • Don’t hang onto documents just for their sentimental or public relations value. Information must earn its keep, like any other asset.

When no requirements exist

Sometimes, the law doesn’t require retaining certain records, or the requirement may not include a specific retention period. How long should you keep records if you cannot locate any legal requirements referring to them?

It is best to maintain the records for three years.

However, you must document your best efforts to discover any pertinent retention requirements and the assumptions you used to set the three-year period. Then, if you missed a legal requirement during your search, you have documentation to show the judge or regulatory agency that your organization had made a good-faith effort to comply with the law.

Note: Retain records longer if litigation, a government investigation or an audit seems likely. In the event that a legal action does transpire, immediately cease all disposal activities.

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