As a small business with employees, you’ll have HR records that are legally required to be stored, but do you know which ones and for how long?

All organisations, whether big or small, collect data relating to their employees, such as information on pay, sickness, hours, employment contracts and work schedules.

Whether you store these HR records as hardcopy or electronically is up to you; however, keeping all information in an organised system is essential for easy retrieval and management.

It’s good practice to have a document retention policy and monitoring programme communicated to all staff. The policy should ensure that records are kept for as long as required and then destroyed securely.

Legal Requirements 

The new Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) applies to most HR records, whether in paper or digital format. Current guidelines were put in place and tightened in the UK to adapt to the rapid expansion of technology and vast amounts of stored data.

It is a legal requirement for you not to keep data any longer than necessary and for the data not to be excessive. Therefore, the employer should have processes and systems in place to determine how long information is stored and appropriate measures for destroying records.

All small businesses and employers must ensure they’re data protection compliant and may need to designate a data protection officer to ensure best practice, which could involve training existing staff members.

It’s essential to remember that certain documents such as accident record books and other personnel records may need to be easily accessible in the case of employment tribunals or legal trials. If original documents aren’t available, employers must explain what happened to the originals through a ‘statement of truth.’


Statutory Retention Periods

If you’re in doubt, keeping records for at least six years (or five in Scotland) is always a good idea to cover the time limit for any civil legal action.

We’ve outlined a few examples below of the required period to keep records depending on the record type. You can access the complete list here.

Payroll wage/salary records (also overtime, bonuses, expenses)

  • Statutory retention period: 6 years from the end of the tax year to which they relate

First aid training

  • Statutory retention period: 6 years after employment

Accident books/accidents records and reports

  • Statutory retention period: 3 years from the date of the last entry


Recommended (non-statutory) retention periods

There is no definitive retention period for many types of HR records: it’s up to the employer to decide how long to retain them. Different organisations make widely differing decisions about how long to store data. The employer must consider what is necessary for them, considering their organisation and the record type. The UK Limitation Act 1980 contains a 6-year time limit for starting many legal proceedings.

Employers should always review the length of time personal data is kept, consider its purpose when deciding how long to retain it and update, archive or securely delete information if it goes out of date. It’s also important to remember that confidential data, such as sickness records should have personally identifiable information removed (pseudonymisation).

CIPD has recommended retention periods depending on the record type, and the full list can be accessed here.

Contacting Us

If you’re unsure where to begin when it comes to retention periods for HR records or need some support, contact us today. A friendly member of our team would be more than happy to offer some advice. Book a call with us at a time convenient to you here.


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