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How long should we be keeping employee records?

The Data Protection Act (DPA) provides that personal data should not be kept for longer than is necessary for the purpose for which it is processed.  Further detail and the recommended periods for the holding of records are set out in the Employment Practices Code, a guide issued by the Information Commissioner under the DPA.

The Code makes a number of recommendations that an employer should consider when looking at retaining employee records in order to balance the business need to keep records and a worker’s right to respect for their private life.

Generally, employers should establish standard retention times for categories of information held about workers and former workers. These should be based on business need taking into account relevant professional guidelines and risk.  Documents should not be kept for longer than the usual retention time unless there is a sound business reason for this and there should be a nominated person within the organisation charged with retention of employment records. 

The Code says that no recruitment records should be held beyond the statutory period in which a claim arising from the recruitment process may be brought, unless there is a clear business reason for exceeding this.  Employers that keep names on file for future vacancies should advise applicants of this and give them the opportunity to have their details removed.  Information about criminal convictions collected
in the course of the recruitment process should be deleted after verification through a Disclosure and Barring Service check, unless the information is relevant to the ongoing employment.

While records should only be retained for a particular purpose and should not be kept for longer than is necessary, this does not rule out keeping information to protect against legal risk. As there is the possibility that any documents relating to a worker could be relevant to a tribunal or court claim for up to six years, employers may retain them for up to six years after termination
of employment.

The retention rules about specific types of information are not all set out in one place. Some are covered by the Information Commissioner’s Code, others in other statutes and for others there are no rules.  Here are some examples of different retention times:

•  Job applications and interview records of unsuccessful candidates: a short period, perhaps 6 months after notifying the candidate. If longer, there needs to be a clearly communicated policy to keep candidates CVs for future reference. Application forms should give applicants the opportunity to object to their details being retained;

•  Written particulars of employment, contracts of employment, changes to terms and conditions, training and annual leave records: while employment continues and up to six years after employment ceases;

•  Working Time Opt out forms: two years from the date on which they were entered into;

•  Payroll and Wage records: It depends: for companies: six years from the financial year-end in which payments were made. For all other employers: five years after 31 January following the year of assessment;

•  PAYE records: not less than three years after the end of the tax year to which they relate, but  sensible to keep them for six years as they may fall within the definition of payroll and wage records, as to which see above;

•  Maternity records: three years after the end of the tax year in which the maternity pay period ends;

•  Sickness records: three years after the end of the tax year in which payments are made; and

•  Immigration checks: two years after the termination of employment.