When Can I Shred My Paper?

After the implementation of an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS), a logical thought generally comes to mind. Can I get rid of my original paper documents and if so when? After all, one of the benefits of using an EDMS is to ‘get rid’ of the paper. The answer is ‘It depends’.

Historical and current paper based business documents must be digitally captured to be used with an electronic document management system (EDMS). Once captured, the question becomes what do I do with the paper. Several options exist from destroying the document to retaining the paper. But, is there a hard and fast rule that can be always used? The answer lies in the type of document and industry specific regulation. There are typically three categories of document retention that I have experienced. First the original paper must be kept, second you can keep the paper if you want but is not required, and third is no paper needed.

The following points should be considered when making a decision on whether to keep or shred documents after they reside in the EDMS.

  1. Is the document(s) regulated by any agency? If so, what is the agency policy on electronic documentation?
  2. Can scanned documents serve as my ‘legal’ original? The most frequent answer is yes as long as it is your policy that the electronic document is the original and both electronic and paper are not maintained. Typically if both are maintained, the paper document serves as the default original.
  3. Are there any regulations that require documents with signatures to be maintained in original form?  If so, can I keep just the signature page on file and scan the remainder of the document? This answer typically comes from the regulating agency or legal counsel.
  4. Ensure that a reliable backup of the electronic documents is completed before destroying the paper copy. Make multiple copies of the backup. One advantage to electronic documents is that you can have more than one copy available. With paper, you typically have one and only one copy.
  5. Ensure privacy of sensitive documents by shredding before disposing.

When to shred documents that are stored in an EDMS is dependent primarily on two criteria. Are the documents regulated and if so, what is the regulating agencies policy , and, what is my company policy on keeping paper. Once you have a shredding procedure defined, make sure you have a minimum of one good data backup before getting rid of the paper.
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