Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

The Functional Records Retention Schedule ... an Alternative That Works!

Magazine article Records Management Quarterly

The Functional Records Retention Schedule ... an Alternative That Works!

Article excerpt

The Functional Records Retention Schedule ... An Alternative That Works!

Organizations are increasingly concerned about the legal issues affecting their records retention program. This column has previously focused on legal issues such as keeping records too long or not long enough, selective versus systematic destruction of records, procedural requirements for ensuring legal compliance, determining the legal retention period for records, and legal research and analysis. All these issues must be addressed to ensure that an organization properly destroys records and averts severe legal consequences.

The manner in which the records retention schedule is organized and presented to record users may also determine whether the program will ultimately comply with the law. If the records retention schedule is poorly organized, inaccurate, cannot readily be used to find appropriate information, and cannot be revised and updated quickly and accurately, the program will not function properly. Records that could and should have been destroyed in the ordinary course of business may not be destroyed or may be destroyed improperly. Errors may result which compromise the records destruction process. As a result, the entire records retention program may not withstand close legal scrutiny.


Most records retention programs have traditionally been organized by department and record titles. Although the records management profession has commonly advocated that records retention schedules be presented by records series--"a group of similar or related records, used or filed as a unit"(1)--most retention schedules still reflect the different record titles invented by record users or clerical staff creating file folder labels. A typical, traditional records retention schedule could therefore contain a listing of over 1,000 records and their associated retention periods.

The traditional, title-oriented retention schedule may enable some individuals to precisely locate and determine the retention period for selected records. In most other cases, this approach has the following inherent disadvantages:

* Record retention periods

generally cannot be determined

unless the precise record title is


* Similar records may be

identified by different titles.

* Records retention periods for

similar titles may have

different retention periods.

* Revisions may be required each

time the organization is

restructured. Since some

organizations are restructured quite

frequently, the retention must

constantly be changed.

* Program development and

maintenance is extremely time

consuming due to the large

number of record titles.

* Assignment of legal citations

by record type is time

consuming and inaccurate.

Some records managers, particularly in the government sector, refer to this traditional type of records retention schedule as a "detailed schedule." While it is indeed detailed, it tends to be harder to use, less accurate, and more difficult to maintain than the functional approach described below.


The functional retention schedule, sometimes referred to as the "general retention schedule," simplifies the process of creating and maintaining a records retention schedule, and may actually improve its accuracy in the process. While traditional records retention schedules claim to be organized by "records series" (but are actually organized by record titles), the functional records retention schedule is organized by the function performed by the organization. In some cases, each functional category may represent a records series; in other cases, the functional category groups or lumps a number of traditional records series together. …

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