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While most businesses rely heavily on digital data, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate the use of hard copies. From firewalls and antivirus, to passwords and encryption, rigorous controls are often in place to protect the digital side of things, but the same standards may not be in place for physical documents.
If hard copies pile up, businesses leave themselves open to significant risks, including data theft and compliance issues.
Before purging all of your documents to help maintain security, it’s important to understand what retention requirements your company may need to adhere to. Unfortunately, there is no blanket retention rule that applies across all documents.
From federal regulations like the IRS’s tax audit procedures and HIPAA’s medical record requirements, to state and local provisions like South Dakota’s Bureau of Administration records management program, businesses are required to keep up with numerous laws and regulations to ensure proper document retention and destruction. You can check with your accountant, lawyer or state record-keeping agency for guidance if you’re unsure what regulations apply to you.
Best practices for document retention typically require businesses to store records for one, three or seven years. However, in some cases, records should be kept indefinitely. Common retention guidelines include:
If there are records you’re unsure about, the Uniform Preservation of Private Business Records Act (UPPBRA) states that whenever a law does not specify a retention period, businesses should keep their records for at least three years.
Once you understand how long records need to be retained, you must decide how they will be stored. If documents are kept in their physical form, make sure they are kept in a secure and monitored location. Implementing a clean desk policy that requires employees to safely store documents before leaving the office each day can also help to keep documents secured. As an added benefit, such policies tend to reduce clutter and increase productivity.
When documents are ready to be archived, digital scanning is a good option for electronic retention, however, before destroying the original physical document, consider if the document is potentially relevant to a complaint or claim that might result in litigation. If so, you’ll want to keep the original copy safely stored as well.
Whether you are shredding documents after the digital conversion process, or disposing of hard copies that have reached their expiration date, it’s important to ensure all sensitive documents are securely destroyed.
Choose a reputable shredding company that will guarantee all papers and media are securely shredded and recycled if possible. Many companies offer convenient locking bins for secure, in-office collection with routine shredding services to prevent build-up or data breaches. Onsite shredding can also provide complete transparency, so you can watch as your documents are shredded before they even leave your location, providing you with peace of mind to know the job was done right.
As director of business development at SEAM (Secure Enterprise Asset Management, Inc.), Levi Hentges helps clients build and manage their data destruction programs to comply with legal, corporate and environmental requirements surrounding their physical documents, media and technology devices.
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