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I work for a contracting agency. I was given a large amount of special papers/documents for a recent assignment. I'm estimating there are hundreds of pages. Now that the job is over my boss has asked me to shred them and confirm with him once it is done.

I already submitted the invoice for this assignment and I get the impression the boss doesn't realize how much paper I have.

Should I message my boss an estimate of how much time it would take me on my personal paper shredder or suggest I take it to a place with an industrial grade paper shredder? I don't mind shredding confidential documents (for free) if there's fewer than 50 but I feel like this is crossing the line.

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  • 2
    When you took the contract on, was destroying paperwork afterwards part of the contract?
    – user25730
    Nov 30, 2021 at 5:23
  • 2
    @user25730 no it wasn't, I could ask to return the paper with the rest of the assets to the client.
    – JazzgeMica
    Nov 30, 2021 at 5:27
  • 5
    Why not burn them? Wouldn't take long at all.
    – Kilisi
    Nov 30, 2021 at 5:35
  • 3
    Do you have a good quality (i.e, P3 or above, so cross-cut rather than strips) shredder? If not, you should not be shredding any sensitive company documents at all, because strips are easy to reassemble.
    – Gh0stFish
    Nov 30, 2021 at 11:17
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    Do you have an office supply or mailing center business near you? Most of them offer secure shredding by weight. US Example: 500 pages is about 5 lbs. The UPS Store offers shredding for $1.50/lb. Even if you don't seek reimbursement for the $7.50, the receipt will be your confirmation.
    – Theodore
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:59

5 Answers 5

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Return the documents.

The documents are the property of the company. If the documents are sensitive enough to require shredding, this is the company's responsibility to handle. If the documents are worthless and they just want to get rid of them, this is still their responsibility.

You were not contracted to shred confidential documents or to function as waste disposal for this company. So, deliver the documents personally to your boss or though a certified verifiable means of delivery. Let them handle how their property is disposed of.

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As mentioned in the comments this recent assigment to shred the paperwork involved in your contracted work wasn't included in the contract.

I see three options:

  • Destroy the papers (shred/burn) on your own time and at your expense.
  • Inform them about the excessive amount of docs and estimate the overall costs for that and ask if they are willing to additionally pay for that service (either you personally or a professional company in case of sensitive/confidential documents).
  • Send (or bring) the docs back to the client so they can take care of it themselves.

In case you are looking forward to work with them again and the shredding isn't taking longer than let's say 20-30 minute, you could see it as good will and investment in future relationship on your side.

Optionally (as per @PeterM's comment), when there's no deadline set for the completion of the shredding, the OP could roll the shredding into the next contract by shredding a few pages each day.

As per @Kilisi's comment, burning could be an option in case they don't need a confirmation that the docs were shredded or burnt professionally (like in an industrial furnace or shredder facility) - though keep the environmental impact in mind when doing so (don't burn them on some field or in a bonfire due to insuffiecent temperature resulting in the emission of excessive carbo- & sulfur mono/dioxides).

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    Burning the documents is also likely to have a significant cost as you need to securely get the documents to the location where they will be burned. But if the OP continues to work with this company there may not be a deadline for when the shredding is complete. So the OP could roll the shredding into the next contract by shredding a few pages each day.
    – Peter M
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:17
  • @PeterM Fully agree, taking it to a professional facility (furnace or shredder) needs also a security-concept for the tranportation etc. I like your suggestion to do it in batches if time is not of the essence.. I will add that option to my answer if you don't mind..
    – iLuvLogix
    Nov 30, 2021 at 14:22
  • Burning 100s of papers is like burning a log when it works. It takes serious effort if you are not already building a nice fire. Often, it does not work because not all the pages burn through when you have so many, leaving a mess. Nov 30, 2021 at 18:21
  • @MichaelMcFarlane If they get burnt 1 by 1 as single sheets I agree - but trying to burn stacks of a couple of 100 pages the results may vary..
    – iLuvLogix
    Nov 30, 2021 at 18:52
  • If time is not of the essence and you have environmental concerns, you could soak the papers in a 5 gallon bucket for a few weeks until the paper starts to fall apart, then punch a hole in the lid large enough for the shaft of a paint stirrer driver by a drill to finish the shredding process. I would not recommend this method, however.
    – Michael J.
    Dec 5, 2021 at 4:09
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This "shredding" requirement is common in many contracts. I've received similar demands to certify that I have erased all data that pertains to a prospect even when the contract was never started.

However, such a demand is put on the providing company by the client and the providing company needs to pay for any such demands they put on you, the contractor.

I recommend returning all that paper to the company (your boss) as it is their responsibility. You may also need to verify that the computers have been cleared of the data pertaining to that client. (Check with the boss to see if that is also a requirement.)

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When you say "the boss", do you mean your boss at the consulting agency, or your former boss at the client company? This is important because it determines how you proceed.

In either case, if it's practical, find a local shredding agency (apparently UPS will do it, according to other comments) and get a quote, and ask whoever it is if such a service is sufficient. Also get confirmation that you can expense the charge to the company so you're not paying for it yourself; this is a work matter so the company should pay for it. If this approach doesn't work for whatever reason:

If your boss at the consulting agency is the one asking you to do this, then just do it, but do it on work time. This is part of your work responsibilities, so you deserve to be paid for it. If you're not currently on an assignment then do it as part of your office responsibilities; if you are currently on another assignment then inform your boss that you'll need unbillable hours to do this (or billable to the previous client, however they want to arrange it). If you're salaried by the consulting agency, then just do it and count it as your working hours and figure out with your boss at the consulting company how to report this to your client (maybe it's unbillable to the new client and the company takes the hit). Anyway, you deserve to be paid for it.

If your (former) boss at the client company is the one asking you to do it, inform the consulting company of the issue, just as you've done here: you sent the invoice, billed the hours, and it's all finalized, and now they're asking for more hours. You don't want to say the wrong thing and potentially burn this bridge for the consulting company in the future without approval from the consulting company. Let them deal with it. You may make suggestions to your handler at the consulting company that have been mentioned in other answers, such as securely sending back the pages to the client (at someone else's expense of course, not yours) or burning the pages, or whatnot, but let the consulting company decide how to proceed; don't communicate directly with the client if you can at all avoid it, except to tell them you're looking into the best way to handle the situation and assure them you won't dispose of their confidential IP insecurely.

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  • "When you say "the boss", do you mean your boss at the consulting agency, or your former boss at the client company? This is important because it determines how you proceed." This is the only answer (at time of writing) that addresses this.
    – jcm
    Dec 2, 2021 at 21:44
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Ask your boss

General workplace methods when the boss asks you to do something and there is a conflict with what they might know and what their request really means is to talk with them.

I'll tell you that if I were your boss & told you to shred something, even if I didn't have a clue about the volume, and you took them back to the client or returned them to me, I would question your ability to take direction or ask a question if unsure what the direction should be.

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