Free Document Retention Policy Templates

Company documents ought to be appropriately maintained for auditing and reference purposes. However, these records tend to outlive their usefulness after some time. So, it is important to formulate protocols to dispose of this and other data of no use and retain important records. The protocols ought to be outlined in a retention policy.

An effective policy ensures that the company protects sensitive data from unauthorized access and complies with any legal and regulatory requirements while also clearing its file cabinets. Every organization should invest in a clear and detailed plan regardless of their industry, whether it is a school, company, medical facility, etc. 

This article will educate you on what a document retention policy entails by discussing the components and procedures of creating a template for recording such protocols. 

What is a Document Retention Policy, and Why is It Needed?

A document retention policy is a set of guidelines on how physical and electronic documentation is managed (i.e., from creation, storage, and destruction) within an organization.

It should adopt company-specific best practices and applicable industry and government regulations. It achieves two primary things: it ensures company records are not retained longer than necessary, and important data is preserved for legal compliance. This reduces the cost of storing records, protects the company from litigation and fines, and increases the relevancy of existing data.

Company records comprise corporate records, purchase orders, employee files, and legal and regulatory files. So, each company will have varying documents.

Examples of records that need to be collated include:

  • Emails 
  • Contracts 
  • Invoices 
  • Tax returns 
  • Purchase orders 
  • Operating document 
  • Meeting notes 
  • Social media posts 

The policies can be standalone documents or part of the employee handbook. Then, after approval, it should be shared with all departments to ensure the guidelines are followed diligently. 

Benefits of Creating and Implementing a Document Retention Policy

An organization can benefit from having well-defined and written practices in multiple ways. Primarily, such policies will guide staff members on what to do with different documents under different circumstances.

Other benefits include:

  • A policy improves the efficiency of managing files within the company. This is because it streamlines file management processes, such as access to records, by reducing file congestion and enabling quick retrieval of vital files. Consequently, this saves time and boosts productivity while reducing the resources needed to manage company files. 
  • Well-written policies promote a company’s compliance with government and industry regulations by ensuring that legally required documents are retained. This, in turn, mitigates legal risks such as litigation, fines, penalties, etc., and increases the efficiency of audits and legal proceedings as relevant documents can be retrieved in a moment. 
  • Additionally, the policy can be used to enhance data privacy and security by outlining protocols for storing and accessing sensitive data, such as employee and customer SSNs (social security numbers), medical files, bank account numbers, etc. Consequently, this reduces data breaches and associated data litigation. This also promotes brand reputation and trust among stakeholders and clients. Implementing one indicates responsible data management and ethical practices within an organization.  

Document Retention Policy Template and Its Basic Components

A template is a fillable document with entries for all the basic information needed to create a policy on data retention within an organization. However, it can be personalized by adding or removing components to make it organization-specific. It is pre-made with the standardized framework that needs to be observed in preparing the associated policy. The blank template should be used as a guide during the preparation process in order to save time and effort. 

Therefore, two organizations can have distinct templates depending on their size, industry, practices, and uniqueness. With that in mind, below are the fundamental components that must be present in a template:


This section of the template is used to state the primary objective and benefits. Some of the objectives that can be achieved through it include the following:

  • Compliance with applicable laws, industry standards, and regulations related to the policy. This prevents potential legal consequences and penalties. 
  • Increased efficiency and organization in document management and how this promotes access and quick retrieval of vital files. 
  • Improved management of legal and financial risks associated with poor data management. 
  • Enhanced protection of sensitive and confidential data by clarifying storage, retention, and disposal protocols. 


The scope section of the template records the target audience. A policy can be made for specific departments or parts of the organization.

In common organizational areas, it may be applied to include:

  • Departments or functional areas – These are the different sections of the organization, which include human resources, finance, operations, security, IT department, etc.  
  • Geographical coverage – Some organizations will have offices or premises in different locations. So, a policy can be made for each location or all offices. 
  • Employee coverage – A policy can apply to all parties that create, modify, or interact with company records, including internal (employees) and external (contractors and third-parties) associates. 
  • Exclusions – The scope section can also list any departments or areas exempt from the policy. 


A section for the types of documents subject to the policy should be provided in the template. This section should specify the categories, types, and format (physical and/or electronic). Different categories of documentation are financial, legal, employee files, contracts, customer data, operational reports, and intellectual property. Types within the financial category include cash flow statements, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, invoices, receipts, etc.   

Retention period

Different documents have to be stored for varied durations depending on the legal requirements, business needs, and industry standards. The template must therefore have a separate section for indicating this information. For each category and type, indicate the retention period and any events that may impact them. This section must comply with any applicable laws and guidelines. Different jurisdictions will have varying retention periods.

For example, in the US, the retention period will vary as follows for the following documents: tax records (7 years), employee payment records (3 years), background checks (5 years), and corporate files (permanent). 

Important Note

Specifying the retention period prevents premature disposal or overdue retention of data since employees will know how long each document is valuable to the organization.  


After the retention period expires, a document should be disposed of. The policy must thus specify the protocol for their destruction to ensure records are safely disposed of in accordance with data privacy and protection laws.

A good disposal protocol will specify the following:

  1. Disposal method – This clarifies the “how” of destroying documentation. Examples of disposal methods include shredding, incineration, secure erasure (electronic files), etc. 
  2. Disposal location – The location indicates where documents selected for destruction should be archived, for example, in locked bins, secure storage spaces, or with certified disposal services. 

This section can also specify any industry-specific regulations applicable to disposable records. A proper disposal procedure should prevent unauthorized access and mitigate the risk of data breaches. 

Protection levels

The template should have a section to indicate the security level and protection measures. This protects data from unauthorized personnel, safeguarding sensitive and confidential files.

This section should state three things:

  • The document classification includes, for example, internal-use-only, confidential files, public, and highly sensitive files.    
  • Specific security measures for each classification include password protection, restricted access, encryption, firewalls, and storage on secure servers or cloud storage. 
  • The access authorization indicates that personnel are permitted to access different document classifications. Access will typically be based on personnel’s job roles and responsibilities.  


A thorough policy should specify the staff members responsible for approving any deviations or exceptions to the outlined protocols. This is because, in some cases, protocols may have to be bypassed or modified based on circumstances.

Therefore, a template should have entries to enlist the names of the approvers, job titles, and their responsibilities, such as review requests, decision-making, or ensuring legal and regulatory obligations are fulfilled. This information lets employees know who to contact in specific situations. Then, the approval process needed to implement deviations must be defined. This may entail submitting a request or justifying the deviation to the respective approver.  


This section is meant to outline any additional information that is not covered in the other sections of the policy. It is needed so as to ensure employees understand and interpret it correctly and consistently.

To achieve this, the appendix will include the following:

  • Definitions of terminology, acronyms, and concepts discussed within the policy should be provided to help readers clearly understand the stipulations. 
  • References to supporting materials, such as external regulation laws and industry standards, etc.  

Free Templates

Given below are free templates:

Free Document Retention Policy Template 01 for Word File
Editable Document Retention Policy Template 02 for Word File
Downloadable Document Retention Policy Template 03 for Word File
Printable Document Retention Policy Template 04 for Word File
Customizable Document Retention Policy Template 05 for Word File
Professional Document Retention Policy Template 06 for Word File
Free Document Retention Policy Template 07 for Word File
Professional Document Retention Policy Template 08 for Word File
Downloadable Document Retention Policy Template 09 for Word File
Professional Document Retention Policy Template 10 for Word File

    Creating a Document Retention Policy for a Non-Profit Organization

    Non-profit organizations must also retain their documents under the Sarbane-Oxley Act (SOX). This regulation was imposed on non-profits in 2002. Therefore, a well-defined policy can help such organizations manage all their records, including tax statements, payroll records, etc., in accordance with SOX requirements. While there are no specified retention periods for these, non-profit organizations are implored to follow the guidelines stipulated for for-profit organizations. 

    Document Retention Policy Vs. Data Retention Policy

    A policy on document retention is a compilation of protocols for handling (including creation, storage, retention, and destruction) different documents within an organization to prevent mismanagement of such records. This includes physical and electronic records such as financial documents, contracts, employee files, etc.

    On the contrary, a policy on data retention focuses on how data (structured and unstructured information) should be managed. This includes data stored in company databases, file systems, applications, data backups, archives, etc. This policy can include guidelines on data disposal, response to data breaches, and backing up and accessing data.

    The retention policy for documents is based on industry standards and legal and regulatory requirements. Conversely, a data retention policy is influenced by data governance and protection laws, privacy and security concerns, and industry regulations. 

    A document retention policy factors in operational efficiency, an organization’s best practices, and legal and regulatory compliance obligations. However, a data retention policy will consider the data’s purpose, sensitivity, business value or utility, and consent obtained for data processing. 

    This infographic includes comprehensive overview of Document Retention Policy.
    This infographic includes comprehensive overview of Document Retention Policy.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    How often should you update your template?

    The template for making a policy on document retention can be updated every two years. However, management can review its usage regularly to determine if it aligns with the organization’s policy. 

    How long do records need to be retained?

    Various types of documents have different retention periods. So, always verify the retention period of each through the legal team, HR, tax, and financial advisors. 

    What are the laws, acts, and agencies that require a record retention template?

    Multiple authorities use such templates. Examples include:
    Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
    Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    Federal Insurance Contribution Act (FICA)
    Employee Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA)
    Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
    Americans Disabilities Act (ADA)
    Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)
    Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
    Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)
    Civil Rights Act of 1964
    Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA)
    Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

    About This Article

    Ryan Powell
    Authored by:
    Professional Business Management, Quality Assurance, Human Resources, Supplier Management
    With over 15 years in professional business management and an additional 4 years in e-commerce, Ryan Powell has distinguished himself as a strategic leader, steering sites to generate revenues exceeding $100 million. His approach emphasizes proactive problem-solving and profit optimization. Personal attributes such as strong organization, time management, and team collaboration bolster his professional portfolio. Ryan's experience spans leadership roles from Supervisor to General Manager, with notable contributions in Tier 1 Aerospace sectors, partnering with industry leaders like Boeing and Raytheon. He's adept at quality assurance, aligning with AS/ISO 9001 standards, lean methodology, financial management, including P&L oversight, and human resource strategies that prioritize employee retention. Ryan's comprehensive skill set positions him as an invaluable asset to growth-focused organizations.

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