Getting to grips with the legislation and recommendations around the retention of employee records is challenging for most businesses.
In my role at Charlie, I support small business owners and employees by helping them comply with the latest legislation and understand HR best practice. So I know what needs to be put in place to meet the necessary requirements for keeping records about your current and ex-employees.
And the good news is that it’s possible to do that while simultaneously creating clear, effective and professional HR processes.
In this blog, I’ll address the stumbling blocks for small businesses when it comes to employee records, and set out everything you need to know about how long you should keep them.
To make the HR record retention guidelines easier to understand, I’ve also included a table in section 3 so you can see the recommended time period for each type of document at a glance.
I'm going to answer the following questions:
- How long should you keep ex-employee records?
- What are employee records?
- What are the HR record retention guidelines?
- What should be in an employee personnel file?
Employee records and stumbling blocks for small businesses
When it comes to keeping employee and ex-employee records, small businesses in particular can encounter specific obstacles:
One of the biggest struggles for small businesses is navigating the complex landscape of employment laws and regulations. Ensuring compliance with these regulations is time-consuming and often confusing.
2- Lack of expertise
Small businesses don’t have easy access to dedicated legal or HR experts for guidance on record-keeping requirements — so interpreting the legal jargon, and understanding which records need to be kept and for how long, is all on them.
3- Changing regulations
Employment laws and regulations can alter over time, and keeping up with the changes is challenging — especially with limited resources.
4- Storage and organisation
Figuring out where and how to store employee records securely is a headache. Whether paper or digital records, it’s a struggle to find a reliable and organised way of storing employee records safely and ensuring data privacy.
5- Confidentiality and data privacy
Employee records contain sensitive personal and financial information. Small businesses must ensure the confidentiality and privacy of these records, which means strong, and often costly, security measures.
6- Limited resources
More often than not, small businesses have limited resources. Devoting time and effort to understanding all the record-keeping requirements, on top of managing the records, diverts attention from core business activities.
So now we know the stumbling blocks, let’s focus on how to get past them.
How long should you keep employee records in the UK?
One of the most difficult aspects of knowing how long to keep employee records (UK) is that there is no set period for retaining every type of document — it varies depending on the HR record.
And retention time is recommended rather than mandated, so it’s up to the employer to decide how long current employee and ex-employee records should be kept on file. This leads to sizable differences between organisations.
A six year time limit for contractual claims is written into the 1980 UK Limitation Act, so it’s often recommended to retain most records for that amount of time. However, you’re only supposed to keep information that you have a clear business need for, so knowing what you’ve got on file and why is essential.
So how long do employers keep records of past employees?
In the table below, we’ve listed the different types of HR records and the recommended retention or review period for each. This information is taken from CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, so you can trust in its authority.
Once you understand the purpose of the data you’ve collected, you’ll be able to figure out how long you need to keep it — and when it should be updated, archived or deleted.
All records relating to your employees must be securely deleted once you’ve no business need for them, and anything confidential that can identify an individual should be removed wherever possible.
As an employer you should be regularly reviewing the length of time you keep personnel data on file, and know exactly why you’re storing it.
What are employee records?
Employee records, or personnel records, are or include:
- Personal information (name, address, date of birth etc.)
- Pay and tax details (wage or salary, National Insurance number, pension etc.)
- Working time (the period of time of paid labour)
- Training records
- Career progression (roles held, promotions etc.)
- Absences (maternity/paternity, sickness, extended leave)
- Disciplinary measures or grievances
- Documentation relating to employment or offers of employment
And it’s not just past and present employees you’ll gather this information about. Data protection legislation also covers applicants, contract workers and agency staff, so you need to ensure you’re adhering to recommendations for their records as well.
As an employer, you’re responsible for storing employee records in accordance with statutory legislation and established best practice.
What are the HR record retention guidelines? (2023, UK)
The table below lists the recommended data retention periods for UK employers.
If you’re unsure of how long you should retain employee and ex-employee records, CIPD states that “keeping records for at least six years, covers the standard time limit for any civil legal action”.
Note: the recommendations in this table are from CIPD and are based on potential tribunal or civil claims time limits.
|Record type||Recommended retention/review period|
(including training, disciplinary and working time records)
|6 years after employment ceases
(though referring to expired warnings after two years could be regarded as unreasonable
|References||1 year after reference is given|
|Right to work in the UK checks||2 years after employment ends
(Home Office recommendation)
|Recruitment application forms and interview notes for unsuccessful candidates||At least 6 months (1 year more advisable)
(successful applicants’ documents will transfer to their personnel file)
(calculations of payments, refunds, notification to the Secretary of State)
|6 years from date of redundancy|
|Termination of employment||At least 6 years|
|Time cards||2 years after audit|
|Flexible working requests||18 months following any appeal|
|Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) records
(calculations, certificates, self-certificates, occupational health reports and COVID-19-related SSP records)
|No specific statutory retention period, employers must keep sickness records to “best suit their business needs”
(6 months after the end of the period of sick leave is sensible, and the limitation is 3 years for personal injury claims)
|COVID-19 vaccination records||Employers can only keep this data for a good reason and there is a lawful basis (such as employee or public health duties)|
|Senior executives' records
(senior management team or equivalents)
|Most should be retained permanently|
|CCTV footage||6 months following the outcome of any formal decision or appeal
(footage may be relevant to a disciplinary matter or unfair dismissal claim)
|Driving offences||6 months following the outcome of any formal decision or appeal
(footage may be relevant to a disciplinary matter or unfair dismissal claim)
|Pension records||12 years after the benefit ceases|
|Pension scheme investment policies||12 years from when any benefit payable under the policy ends|
What should be in an employee personnel file (UK)?
As you can see, there’s a lot of HR documentation associated with every past, present and potential employee. In addition to knowing how long you need to keep all of these records, you’ve also got to feel confident that you know what you’re storing and why. No one employee personnel file will be exactly the same.
So how do you ensure that you’ve got the right records for every member of your team, and how do you safely store them, easily keep tabs on them, and dispose of them securely?
Well, that’s why I want to talk to you about Charlie. Because it provides the answers to all of those questions.
Charlie’s HR software is built for small businesses. It takes away all the faff by automating the data collection of all of your employee personnel files.
The platform is designed to collect all data that’s required by law, so there’s no chance you’ll ever forget anything.
- Works on a ‘self-service’ basis — all you need to do is input your new employee’s name and email address, and they’re then responsible for uploading all the information
- Ensures you’re always on the right side of the law
- Saves you hours of onboarding admin for every new member of your team.
Charlie also ensures you keep all employee and ex-employee records secure:
- Charlie is fully GDPR-compliant and ISO 27001-accredited, so you have one secure place to store all employee data in a way that is compliant (spreadsheets and shared drives are not secure enough to comply with employment law)
- You can manage permissions in Charlie, so that only the right people have access to employee data
- When you offboard a departing team member, Charlie archives their records rather than deleting them — you’re always able to access their profile and can reactivate it if necessary
- And then you need to delete employee info completely, the platform allows you to do that safely and securely.
And another great thing about Charlie is that you can try it for free, so you can see how easy and simple it is before you commit to using it.
With Charlie, employee record-keeping is easy, secure and worry-free.