Working with documents involves much more than just storing them. Documents have retention periods, which are determined by the legislation. However, the statutory retention periods can vary greatly, which makes it unclear to many organisations how long which information must be kept. Not to mention the space that all these documents take up after years of compulsory storage.
Why retention periods?
Every organisation stores certain data in order to be able to account for its actions. Documents contain data, knowledge and experience that must remain accessible in a certain way. Some data must be retained in order to be able to prove that something has actually taken place.
Because your organisation may contain many different document types, it often happens that the overview is hard to find. For medical data, different retention periods apply than, for example, personnel data. That is why I would like to focus here on a number of important legal retention periods in the field of medical and HR related documents.
The main rule for medical documents is a statutory retention obligation of 15 years after the end of the treatment agreement (Act on the Medical Treatment Agreement). However, there are always exceptions to the rule. Below I will mention a few exceptions that you should take into account for medical documents.
- Academic hospitals: here the documents are kept for up to 115 years after the date of birth of the patient. In addition, the preservation of three generations is also a guideline.
- Psychiatric patient documents: if a patient has been involuntarily admitted, the documents must be kept for at least five years after discharge.
- Children’s documents: up to the age of 18, these documents must be kept, plus the standard 15 years.
- Medical examinations: with regard to exposure to hazardous substances, a retention period of 40 years from the end of exposure has been set.
Please note that there are always exceptions to the rules and that it is therefore very important to assess and categorise all document types. Within a department there should be a policy on how documents are handled. For example, have the legal 15 years expired in the case of medical documents? Then it could be legally destroyed, if the doctor can and wants to comply, but this must be agreed internally. You as an organisation remain responsible!
The following retention periods are indicated on the website of the Netherlands Bar Association under the laws and regulations relating to the retention of documents:
- Case files: save for five years after closing a case;
- Administrative data: keep for seven years (this concerns, among other things, the financial administration).
With regard to the retention of case files, the liability of lawyers for professional misconduct must also be taken into account. The limitation periods for this are five years; the limitation periods for liability on the basis of article 3:310 of the Civil Code are twenty years. You should take these limitation periods into account when keeping files. The simplest way is to keep all case files in an archive room or depot for up to twenty years after they have been closed. Records must also be kept after the practice has been filed and when a lawyer has died.
The retention periods for HR documents are determined in, among other things, the Archives Act, the Civil Code, the education and tax legislation, application codes and, most importantly, the Personal Data Protection Act. The following specific retention periods for documents are set out in this document;
- Application data may be kept for four weeks, if there is no permission from the Dutch Human Rights Council. If there is permission, these may be retained indefinitely.
- Employment contracts; performance and assessment interviews; correspondence about appointment; promotion; relegation and dismissal must be retained for two years.
- Copies of proof of identity must be kept for five years after leaving employment.
- Salary and other tax information must be retained for seven years.
- Other personnel records have a retention period of seven years.
- Medical health and safety data must be kept for ten years.
In the meantime, this paper mountain is piling up, because the destruction of documents is often a bridge too far, instinctively. We just keep it, just to be sure’.
We therefore advise our clients to choose a clear approach, in order to map out the information properly. With this approach, we differentiate between the number of documents/files. An example would be the archiving of files that are less up to date. Digitising these files would only be necessary if they were needed in the work process. This immediately solves the problem of space and overview. We advise you to digitize the files that are often needed immediately, as this is the most cost-efficient solution. However, every organisation is different. If you have any questions about a handy approach for your organisation, you can of course always ask for free advice.