HR Function

How long should you keep employee records for?

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Updated on 20/6/2023


By law, employers are required to keep employee records or data. This applies to current employees, ex employees, as well as applicants, contractors and more. And with GDPR legislation ensuring that any employer who fails to meet these obligations face fines, it’s crucial that your employee records are in order. 

In our guide, learn exactly what retention periods apply to what employee records, including the all important question: ‘How long should you keep ex employee records for?’ 

What are employee records?

An employee record is the file, whether physical or electronic, that includes all of the relevant documents that were accrued throughout their time at an organisation. Having these records all in one place means that their information is easy to access, audit and most crucially, be retrievable if they make a claim against an employer. 

Employee records can contain a number of different types of information, but here are the most important:

  • Applicant data: application, CV and cover letter
  • Job offer letter and employment contract
  • Emergency contact information 
  • Basic information: full name, address, education and date of birth 
  • Performance information: appraisals, awards, training etc
  • Payroll information (not including sensitive information)
  • Termination records: resignation letter, exit interview notes, final paycheck

It’s important to note that you don’t need all of these records on file, but it’s recommended as good practice. To find out more about what records an employer can keep, visit the website.

How long should an employer keep ex-employee records?

Former employee records should be held on to for 6 years after they have left. This is partly because of potential tribunals for the 3-month risk period during which terminated employees can bring a claim against you. But their records could also be used for defending a county court or high court claim, which can occur many years down the line. Under the GDPR, the condition for processing would be legal obligation, or legitimate interest.

You’ll need to consider both your legal and business requirements when deciding how long to keep data. If your employee data is being stored off site in a third-party system, you might want to download an archive of ex-employee files, which you can store on site, rather than maintaining and paying for online storage for 6 years.

This article is intended as general information and not legal advice. You can find out more about data retention periods on the ICO website.

How long should an employer keep hiring & applicant records?

During your recruitment process, there’s a lot of data that comes your way. CVs, cover letters and interview notes are just a few of the things that you might make up a part of an employee record.

As an employer, you’ll want to keep this information for at least 6 months. This is the period of time during which a discrimination claim could be brought against your organisation. The HR data you collect during your recruitment process is important for defending any of these potential claims.

Because you have a legitimate interest to hold this data for this amount of time, it could easily be argued under the GDPR that the risk to the applicant is minimal compared to the benefit for the applicant.

What if they want to keep it for longer than six months?

If you want to keep CVs on file longer than six months, for example in a talent pool for future opportunities, then you’ll need

consent from applicants. In the interest of keeping information you hold up-to-date, you might want to consider asking applicants in your talent pool to review and update their CV, as well as asking them to re-issue their consent. If you do not gain the applicant’s consent, you should remove their CV from your system.

If you’re concerned about storing your applicant data in an outdated system, upgrading to an Applicant Tracking System may be the best step forward for your business.

How long employers should keep payroll records

Data relating to PAYE, maternity pay or SMP (statutory mandatory pay) need only be kept in employee records for 3 years after an employee leaves your company, as that is how long the HMRC may be interested in the information for conducting reviews or HR audits.

Beyond this, you are unlikely to have a legitimate interest reason for holding pay information for ex-employees. You should therefore remove this information.

Keep your employee records organised with HR software

Keeping on top of employee records is a significant proportion of HR’s role within an organisation, and knowing these crucial numbers on how long to keep employee data is really important. By using HR software, you’ll not only remove the hassle of physical employee files, but you’ll also reduce the risk of non-compliance.

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Rich Newsome
By Rich Newsome Digital Content Writer

Rich is a content writer at Access PeopleHR and has a wealth of experience within the tech space, including HR software. Passionate about providing website visitors with informative and easy-to-understand content, Rich is committed to helping SMBs find the best solutions for their needs. With a flair for writing, Rich's content engages and educates readers, guiding them towards informed decisions.