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Quick Tip for Businesses: Have an Information Retention Policy

Back in the “olden days,” it was relatively simple to develop and execute a document retention policy.  Now, with the advent of digital information, it has become immeasurably more difficult.

To start, even though retention policies are called “document” retention policies, that is now a misnomer with the advent of digital technologies.  An information or record retention policy is more accurate.  Information includes e-mails, electronic documents, and databases.

Most smaller companies do not have an information retention policy at all which is a big mistake.  Why is a document retention policy necessary?  Having a policy will protect a company if litigation occurs (which for  every successful company is unfortunately inevitable) or the government seeks information as part of an investigation or a routine audit.

Say your company was wronged by another company and you want to hire a lawyer to pursue your case.  Think about what information you would need to arm your attorneys.  That is the information that needs to be maintained.  In any event, various regulations require certain documents to be maintained for a period of years depending on the industry.  A policy has to take this into account and other requirements such as how long your company can be audited by the state and federal tax authorities.  It is important to ensure that information is kept for a period of time depending on the category of information.

Also keep this in mind.  As your IT infrastructure is currently configured, can employees permanently delete e-mails?  They shouldn’t.  Any policy should prohibit one employee from deleting a document or information trail.

Having a policy can be daunting.  However, a consultation with a professional such as an attorney can get you on the right path and help ensure your company’s future success.

Update: it is also important to have a system of capturing social media output, such as if your company has a Facebook page.

Also, there are some people who do not want to have their e-mails traced and delete them.  This usually does not work for a few reasons.  First, it is difficult to fully delete e-mails – they usually reside on a server somewhere.  Also, even if e-mails are successfully deleted, they can often be retrieved from the recipients.  While this is an arduous process, it certainly is doable if the recipients can be uncovered in discover.  Deletion can also lead to spoliation motions which are never fun.

Photo Credit: http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1556

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