Personnel records are subject to a range of government laws relating to employment and human rights. The principal law concerning the retention of data on any individual is the Data Protection Act 1998. Unfortunately, the act is vague in its requirements from employers and merely states that data should not be kept longer than necessary. It is important to classify types of personnel data and treat them differently to comply with the various laws that govern employment in the UK.
You would not expect to need to keep the CVs and application forms of unsuccessful candidates. However, you might be taken to the Employment Tribunal by someone you decided not to hire. A rejected candidate has three months to bring a claim against your company for discrimination and in certain circumstances this period may be extended. Therefore, you should retain all information for all candidates for six months after the post has been filled. To keep within the law, write each candidate a letter accompanying the blank application form that explains this policy.
National minimum wage legislation requires that records of all salary and benefits payments are kept for three years after the end of the financial year in which those payments were made. However, salary information is also relevant to litigation and pensions and so should be kept for longer to cover these topics.
The UK’s Information Commissioner accepts that most personnel records may be fairly kept for the duration of employment and for six years following termination of employment. This is because ex-employees have up to six years to bring a case against you. Data collected on employees for purposes such as monitoring the company’s HR policies against discrimination should be kept in an anonymised format.
The Data Protection Act covers all of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland government retains payroll records on ex-employees until that individual reaches the age of 72, for the purposes of pension payments. As you will be likely to outsource your pensions obligations, it is reasonable to keep this information for six years after the termination of employment for the purposes of litigation. You should then inform the ex-employee that the responsibility for the accuracy of their pension fund size has passed to the pensions company.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act became law in 1974, however it was amended in 2012 with changes coming into effect in 2013. This illustrates that the legislation regarding retention of criminal records is complicated and liable to change. You should make periodic reviews of requirements for the removal of any data you hold on convictions to ensure that you remain compliant. The period for which you are allowed to hold this information varies by categories of cases. The Unlock website includes an online calculator that will help you work out when this data should be deleted (see Resources).
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- UK Government: Personal data an employer can keep about an employee
- Xpert HR: Data protection
- Pure Employment Law: Q&A – How long should we keep employee information?
- Northern Ireland Department of Finance and Personnel: Personnel records and data protection
- Unlock: Disclosure of criminal records - the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974