How to draft a document retention policy

Written by jill lewis
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How to draft a document retention policy
Companies should establish a policy for retaining relevant documents. (documents image by AGITA LEIMANE from

Many laws require that corporations maintain documents for a certain time. Failure to retain documents, such as correspondence, e-mails, memoranda and other records, could result in severe penalties. Drafting and implementing a strict document retention policy can protect a corporation against charges of spoliation of evidence and obstruction of justice, as well as provide a defence in potential litigation.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Identify and classify relevant records. Relevant records are generally those documents that could help prove or disprove a disputed issue in any potential litigation. Such records could include tax records, employee files, accounting records or corporate minutes or bylaws. Make a list of each of these documents and indicate where and how each document is stored.

  2. 2

    Establish a retention schedule. With the help of legal counsel, determine how long each relevant document needs to be retained. Laws differ according to the purpose of the document. For example, tax records usually have to be retained for a minimum three years. Legal counsel can advise you on any applicable statute of limitations, which would dictate the amount of time to retain records before being archived or recycled.

  3. 3

    Develop a document retention task force. A document retention task force can oversee the process of identifying, classifying and retaining relevant documents. An ideal document task force should consist of legal counsel, corporate management and an information technology representative.

  4. 4

    Put the document retention policy in writing. Once you have identified all relevant documents and the appropriate time to maintain them, put the information in writing for distribution to all employees. A document retention policy should provide clear guidelines for managing and retaining company records.

  5. 5

    Educate corporate employees on the document retention policy. Circulate the written document retention policy to all employees with an acknowledgement page for their signature. Offer training to employees to explain the need for a document retention policy and to answer any questions that they may have regarding the effect and purpose of the policy.

Tips and warnings

  • Remember that regular review and monitoring of the corporation's current document retention policy is crucial to identify issues and ensure compliance with the existing and emerging laws relating to the retention of company records.

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