The Legalities of Document Destruction
January 15, 2018
Posted by JD Stride

When thinking about why your company should shred documents, it’s important to remember that you may be legally required to do so. Depending on the nature of your work and the nature of your organisation, there are a range of rules in place governing when and how documents must be disposed of, as well as which documents need to be preserved.

The guide below will give you a general idea, but you’ll need to consult a lawyer to really be compliant. Alternatively, you could team up with a certified document destruction company to help you institute compliant document disposal processes.

Corporate Compliance

There are quite a few reporting and record-keeping requirements for corporations under Australian law. Corporations large and small, national or multinational need to meet stringent criteria dictating minimum periods of time during which documents must be retained. This is to promote greater transparency about a company’s business operations. For example, financial record must be kept for at least seven years before being destroyed, in case the company should come under investigation. This includes records of income and expenditure, as well as accounting records that show profitability and performance over time.

Minutes of board and general meetings also need to be retained for seven years in a form that can be easily understood and audited. This means you need to have very secure document storage facilities on site. Once the seven years are up, documents should be destroyed as quickly as possible by a professional team.

Charitable Organisations

Careers with charitable organisations tend to involve a lot of work and not enough pay. Unfortunately, compliant document destruction requires even more work in the form of paperwork. But, since charities are exempt from tax, it makes sense that their finances should be closely scrutinised.

The rules, which are outlined in the Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission Act of 2012, are simple. Much like corporations, charities must retain all operational and financial records for seven years, after which they should be disposed of in a compliant and documented way.

Personnel Records

The Fair Work Act of 2009 required employers to keep personnel records for a minimum period of time after employment is terminated. They must be on file for at least seven years before being destroyed. Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Act of 2004 also require that documentation relating to health and safety incidents be kept a minimum of five years before disposal.

Where Does the Privacy Act Fit In?

So far, we’ve mostly talked about documents you are legally required to retain, but there are also laws dictating destruction. The Privacy Act of 1988 covers all organisations that take information from the public on a regular basis – that covers governmental organisations, private businesses, charities, hospitals, and many more.

The Privacy Act is complex, but the basic requirement is that client and patient information be disposed of securely and promptly as soon as it is no longer directly required by the organisation. It’s very important that this information is protected while in your possession and while in transit, and that it is destroyed beyond retrieval to ensure you do not breach the privacy and trust of your customers.

Use a Secure Destruction Method

 Whenever you have confidential or sensitive documents, trust the team at In Confidence to effectively destroy them. You can contact us online for information, advice and services.