Retention periods and rules: 5 questions about personnel records

Some elements of a personnel file are mandatory. But what is a personnel file? What do you include and what should you not include? How long should you keep a personnel file and who is allowed to see it? You can find the answers to those questions here.

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1. What is a personnel file?

A personnel file is a document in which you collect information about your employee. Some sections are mandatory. Others are not. But those extra sections do help you make decisions. A decision could be dismissal, for example, or a salary increase. The reports of performance reviews then serve as evidence. Or your employee has been ill for a long time. Because you have kept a record of the first day of illness in the personnel file, you know exactly when the employee needs to begin the reintegration process. Also, thanks to your personnel file, you know exactly how much payroll tax and health insurance contribution you have to pay, because your employee's salary is recorded in there. 

You must tell your employees what data you keep in the personnel file and what you do with that data. Read what other privacy rules apply to a personnel file on the website of the Personal Data Authority (in Dutch). 

2.    What do you include in a personnel file? 

A personnel file contains at least the following information about your employees: 

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Contact details
  • Salary
  • Citizen service number (BSN) 
  • A copy of the employee’s identity document
  • Date of starting work

You can also add the following details: 

  • Sick notes and any absence reports. 
  • Records of performance reviews and appraisals. You need these if, for example, an employee performs badly and you want to dismiss them. The reports then serve as evidence. 
  • Complaints and warnings. For example, has your employee been accused of inappropriate behaviour by a colleague? If so, make a note of this in the accused's personnel file. 

3. What should not be included in a personnel file? 

As an employer, you may not store all information about an employee for privacy reasons. You may not put the following information in the personnel file: 

  • Medical information, such as mental illness or use of medication. You also may not ask for this information when an employee calls in sick. So, for example, you may note, "Employee reported sick on 1 December." But not, "Employee came down with the coronavirus." 
  • Criminal justice information, such as any criminal record or if your employee has ever been suspected of a crime.  
  • Data about someone's background, such as race or nationality. You should also not add anything about your employee's religion or appearance. 
  • Data that is not necessary. Debts your employee has, for example, or information about a desire to have children.

4.    What is the retention period?

You may keep your employee's personnel file for a maximum of 2 years. You must keep salary details and payroll tax statements for longer. You can read more about this on the website of the Personal Data Authority . 
5. Who is allowed to see a personnel file? 

Employees are always allowed to see their own personnel files. In addition, certain colleagues are also allowed to see a personnel file, such as a financial employee who pays salaries. This is because the financial officer needs specific information to do their job. You are not allowed to share the data from the personnel file with other organisations or people outside your company unless there is a good reason to do so. Examples of situations where you may share data from personnel files with other parties are: 

  • The Tax Administration needs your employee’s salary details so they can calculate the amount of tax. 
  • A lawyer or judge may ask for performance reports if you have an employment dispute with your employee over, for example, dismissal. 
  • A company doctor needs your employee's phone number if they need to contact them during sick leave. 

Note: Do you share data about your employee with another organisation? If so, let your employee know.