Office 365 Retention Policy Questions from the Field

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The idea of this blog post was borne from the “firehose” of questions I receive relating to retention policies thru my blog, social media, and from customers I work with in the Security & Compliance space. In the spirit of community and sharing, this post is my running list of common questions I’ve received over the recent past on Retention Policies in SharePoint and OneDrive and my answers.

If you have Retention Policy questions not listed here, let me know! If it makes the cut, I’ll add it to the list. 🙂

The questions in no particular order…

Q: What content is retained by a Retention policy on a SharePoint site? 

Answer: documents (all file types) from all libraries on a site, list items (including attachments), calendar items, site pages 

Q: Does content deleted on a site protected by a Retention policy go into the recycle bin? 

Answer: Yes. Content will automatically go into the SharePoint site’s recycle bin and will follow normal Recycle bin processing from that point. Content stored in the recycle bin counts toward your site’s storage quota. Due to the retention policy, the deleted content will also go into the Preservation Hold Library on the site.

Q: When does content retained in the Preservation Hold Library (PHL) get deleted? 

Answer: This is controlled by a periodic back-end timer job whose schedule you have no insight into. If the retention period has elapsed, any items in the PHL will be automatically moved to the second-stage recycle bin (not visible to anyone but a site collection admin) where they will be permanently deleted after 93 days. (**This is a recent change as it used to be permanently deleted from the PHL and not go into any recycle bin)

Q: What is the best way to find content being retained by a Retention policy? 

Answer: Content Search (and eDiscovery search) are the Compliance Admin tools to help you verify what’s being retained and to satisfy any regulatory requests/legal holds your organization may have.  

Q: Is content searchable in the Preservation Hold library from the SharePoint front-end search? 

Answer: Yes, but only by a site collection administrator. Search results will include content stored in the Preservation Hold library since a Site Collection Administrator has access to the library. In a user’s OneDrive, content in the PHL doesn’t appear in search results from a search done from SharePoint or OneDrive. Note: a Group Owner is also a site collection administrator, however content from the PHL doesn’t appear in search results for them. (a good thing)  

Q: Can I use the Preservation Hold library as a backup? 

Answer: No. This is not a point-in-time snapshot of a site’s content, but a log of all changes and deletions made to content across the site. 

Q: Does space consumed by the Preservation Hold library count toward my Site Collection storage quota? 

Answer: Yes. This is included in the storage consumed by the Site Collection it’s in. This is something you must take into consideration as long-range retention policies (which many are) can consume a significant amount of site collection space over time.

Q: Can I have a Disposition Review on content deletion when it’s under a Retention Policy? 

Answer: No. A Disposition Review is only allowed on content retained via a Retention label (published by a Label Policy). Content deleted via a Retention policy will automatically go to the second-stage recycle bin for 93 days and will then be permanently deleted. 

Q: Can I have a Retention label and a Retention Policy published to the same location? 

Answer: Yes. On the same piece of content, the Retention label will apply over a Retention policy because a Label is considered an explicit retention and it takes precedence over an implicit retention (Retention Policy). 

Q: When a Retention Policy is published to a Microsoft Teams channel messages, does it apply to both standard and private channels within the Team?

Answer: No. Not yet. Only standard channel posts are included when you publish the retention policy to the Microsoft Team. The content for a standard channel is retained in the Team’s Group mailbox recoverable items partition.

Q: When a Retention Policy is published to a Microsoft Teams SharePoint site, does it apply to both standard and private channel files within the Team?

Answer: No. You need to specify multiple SharePoint sites for the retention policy:

  1. The main SharePoint site backing the Microsoft Teams to include all standard channel content stored in SharePoint.
  2. The SharePoint site URL for EACH private channel’s site collection to include each private channel’s content stored in SharePoint.

Q: If a Retention Policy has been configured to retain and ‘Do Nothing’, what happens to content in the PHL after the retention period?

Answer: The back-end timer job will delete the content out of the PHL during it’s clean-up process.

Keep the questions coming… 🙂


Credit: Photo by Laurent Peignault on Unsplash


  1. Hi Joanne. Very helpful as usual. I’m wondering what happens to items in the PHL where the retention policy is retain and then ‘do nothing’. In which case, are the items automatically deleted from the PHL at the end of the retention? Also, as a Group Owner and thereby site collection administrator I believe I can access the PHL and retrieve items, say that were inadvertently deleted by a user. I have done this using views including the original location column. Actually, it would be really helpful to search the PHL so I’m surprised this doesn’t work for me as Group Owner even though I can access the PHL. BTW I found your ‘what’s in it for me’ article for Ignite 2018 most informative. Are you preparing similar for Ignite 2019? Many thanks.

    1. Hi Keith,
      In answer to your first question, if a retention policy is for retention with ‘do nothing’ at the end of the retention period, the PHL is cleared out.
      The decision to allow a Group Owner to see the PHL in the Site Contents but not in Search is something you’ll have to ask the Microsoft engineering team. 🙂
      Thanks for the feedback on the Ignite 2018 presentation. If I can get some cycles, I will try and put something together for 2019 – I had a lot of positive feedback on it and helped to look at the announcements thru a different lens.

      1. Hi Keith – another follow-up. If you add yourself as an explicit Site Collection Administrator you will be able to search and return results within the PHL. My preference would be for a Group Owner to not see it in the Site Contents nor be able to return the results in search and have that capability only available to an explicitly-named SCA. Interacting with the PHL is an administrative function and “most” Group Owners won’t understand the purpose of this library and it shouldn’t be treated like a regular library.

  2. Hi,

    Do you know about a workaround for deleting retention labels marked as a record? The labels themselves seem to be protected so they cannot be edited or deleted as soon as the ‘mark as record’ box is checked. I can delete the policy, but it would be good to be able to remove labels used for testing.

    1. Hi Eliz, No workaround. There is currently no way to remove them, even thru PowerShell. They are there forever.

      I don’t know if Microsoft is planning on adding capabilities for that, but it’s not there today.

  3. I am confused by your answer If a Retention Policy has been configured to retain and ‘Do Nothing’, what happens to content in the PHL after the retention period?

    Answer: The back-end timer job will delete the content out of the PHL during it’s clean-up process.

    The info panel next to the “No” tick box on the question “Do you want us to delete it after this time” it seems it just sits there forever and it becomes manually deletable..

    Perhaps your “Do Nothing” option is a different setting…

    1. Hi Carl,
      In this scenario, any content in the PHL will go thru the clean-up process to be deleted after the retention period is complete. The content in the SharePoint site won’t be deleted, just the PHL content. The content in the SharePoint site will remain after the retention period since no instruction was sent to delete it. The content can be manually deleted after that or left in place since there will be no retention policy retaining it anymore. Keep in mind, depending on the retention policy settings, if you were to modify a document and you were basing the retention on ‘last modified’, then retention would start all over again for that document.
      Hopefully this clarified my answer.

  4. Looks like we can apply a retention policy via outlook rule to filter down to specific emails via the gui. But I don’t see a powershell command like set-retentionpolicy or new-inboxrule that supports this. Am I missing something?

    1. Hi JD,
      Those are not the retention policies published thru the S&C Center. They are Exchange retention policies (ootb) and any Retention Labels you have published to your Exchange environment – end-users can manually apply one of those Retention Labels to an email. I’ve never configured retention policies using an Outlook rule and instead prefer to use the central repository of retention policies in the S&C to publish to exchange since these same policies can ALSO be published to other workloads (SharePoint, OneDrive). There are numerous PowerShell cmdlets for that, however I don’t know what’s available for what you’re trying to do.
      Hopefully that clears up the difference.

      1. I created the labels in S&C and then published the policy to Exchange. I think the reason I’m stuck using these retention policies in rules is because of the need to filter on emails with attachments and in the sent folder which outlook marks as a client side only rule. The thing I’m failing to find is a way to auto apply with this level of granularity. Thank you for your input!

  5. We are using broad retention policy for the purpose of clean up / content deletion (ex: delete 3 years after last modified) AND we are using retention labels to mark selected content with a longer more defined file plan label (ex: keep these documents for 8 years). We have some worried folks who want a simple way to “see that content will be / just was “deleted by the retention policy” as they may have missed marking it with a defined retention label. Any suggestions on how best to reveal this information, routinely to end users, or possibly to group / site owners?

  6. Hi,
    We have setup a “Forever” retention policy in Office 365 covering SharePoint and OneDrive files. Does this mean that we can retrieve any file that was ever created in SharePoint or OneDrive? even files from user accounts that have been deleted?

    Thanks for any advice.

    1. Hi Antony, Yes. If there’s a retention policy on a user’s OneDrive and they leave, their OneDrive SharePoint site will NOT be deleted due to the retention policy. It will still be discoverable by an eDiscovery or Content Search.

  7. Hi Jo, really helpful article, thanks! Does the GUID remain the same for a document that is in the recycle bin and the PSL copy?

    1. Hi A Copland, if by PSL you mean PHL (Preservation Hold Library) then they are completely separate documents (it’s a copy) so the GUID would be different.

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