Recently I came upon a situation with a customer that is worth sharing with anyone harboring information – physical or digital – beyond its legal shelf life.
I met with the customer to discuss relocating records to our offsite secure facility. As the conversation progressed it came to light that there were records ready for storage that, legally, no longer needed to be retained. The rationale was simply they preferred to hold on to the information should it need to be referenced in the future.
After a brief pause, in hopes of creating slight discomfort with this thought, I offered anecdotal support for considering altering the anticipated course of action. I shared the story of a former consultant I spoke with two weeks ago who used to assist local governments with their information management.
This consultant shared the story of how, against his advice, a client digitally imaged records that were legally eligible for destruction – just in case they needed them again. The paper files were shredded, but the digital files remained. Shortly thereafter, a lawsuit was filed against the local government office. And, as luck would have it, the lawsuit made reference to information that should have been destroyed, but wasn’t.
Because the information was available digitally, it was still admissible in court and was the lynchpin in the case against the government office. As a result of having the digital information, the lawsuit was successful.
The nature of the suit or the value of the settlement are not the important matters here. What matters here is that as soon as your information – physical or digital – is no longer legally required to be retained, it could very well become more of a liability than asset.
The moral of the story and the reason for this post are now, I hope, fairly plain: do not retain records beyond required retention schedules.
By all means, consult your advisors that provide guidance on handling vital and business records, but be deliberate about limiting your liability through this very simple process of purging what can be purged. Once decide upon, your professional records storage vendor and/or document management system should be able to assist you in establishing reminders or schedules to keep the volume of liabilities to a minimum, or to just plain shred documents for you.