Posted on by Jessica Peaty

A Quick 101 on Hanging onto Ex-Employee Records

Retaining employee and ex-employee records is one of those murky areas in employee law. Why? Because the law itself is ambiguous by definition. Look it up, and you’ll discover the advice is that, “Personal data processed for any purpose or purposes shall not be kept for longer than is necessary for that purpose or those purposes.”

There can be a temptation to clear out the filing cabinet, virtual or otherwise, when a member of staff leaves the business. But before you do, consider the reason for keeping, or clearing out each piece of data. Such information may be required after the individual has left your business. Perhaps in the case of a tribunal as an example. In this case, making sure you have full records to hand is crucial. Equally, keeping personal data for too long can be problematic for employers. After all, out of date information can be misleading, and it clogs up your archives.

Sound complicated? It certainly is an area that raises more than a few questions. With this in mind, we’ve come up with a quick guide to help you to effectively handle ex-employee records.

Breaking it down

The best way to approach employee records in general, is to ask yourself these three logical questions:

• What’s the actual purpose of the information on file?
• Is there a legal requirement for keeping such information?
• Do you have means to securely delete employee records when required?

As a footnote, regularly going through the information you have on file for current, and ex-employees is a no-brainer when it comes to working efficiently.

Think about the law

As we all know, a streamlined filing system is a valuable filing system. This means archiving or deleting bits you don’t need.

In the absence of a solid definition for keeping specific employee records, common sense is needed. Deleting data you may need in a few months, or perhaps even a number of years later, is likely to cause you some problems.

Ultimately, it’s a good idea to go back to the fundamentals of employment law. For example, it’s wise to retain items like employment contracts and appraisals around six years after the staff member has left the business, as some court cases can happen years after a contract has been terminated.

Using information to your advantage

In a more positive vein, well maintained employee records can offer a real insight into a business. This in turn can be used to reveal potential problems, and combat any issues staff may have. It’s a good idea to use the information provided in exit interviews after people have left the business for exactly this purpose.

Equally, in the short term, keeping this data can clear up any discrepancies on salaries paid, holidays or sickness, ensuring everything is clear cut if any questions arise.

Keeping things secure

The beauty of modern HR software means that keeping all personnel files safe and secure comes as part of the package. When it comes to getting rid of information like this, you may wonder about best practice. After all, as an employer you have a duty to not only keep, but to delete sensitive personal data securely.

So when this comes to clearing out electronic data, be thorough. Check the ICO’s guide to deleting electronic data, and always make sure to also delete backup documents.

Although the exact rules around maintaining and keeping employee data isn’t definitive, implementing good HR practice should be. With a solid filing system and a reliable way of storing and deleting personal documents, you’ll be in control whatever circumstances come your way.

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